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IBM licenses ARM microchips for custom networking and communications

IBM on Thursday announced that it has licensed five ARM central processor and graphics processor designs to manufacture custom-built networking and communications chips for customers.

"IBM's manufacturing leadership and expertise in semiconductor innovation means that this agreement will result in a highly competitive portfolio of custom ARM-based solutions being deployed by leading networking infrastructure companies worldwide," Tom Cronk, executive vice president and general manager of ARM's Processor Division, said in a statement.

"Building on their longstanding engagement on ARM Artisan Physical IP, IBM's extensive commitment to ARM Cortex CPU and ARM Mali GPU technology reflects the increasing demand for optimised-for-function, energy efficient platforms."

IBM said it will use the ARM Cortex-A15, Cortex-A12, Cortex-A7, and Cortex-M4 CPUs, and ARM Mali-450 GPU included in the new license agreement to supply custom products to "leading companies that build network routers, switches and the cellular base stations that enable pervasive wired and wireless communications across the globe."

Those processors will be integrated with IBM's existing design tools and IP for embedded and advanced application processing, the computing giant said.

"IBM is a top provider of custom-built, system-on-a-Chip (SoC) technology to communications companies — the silicon technology that has powered much of the mobile computing revolution. With the addition of ARM's advanced 32-bit microprocessors and peripherals to our Power-based offerings, our clients will now have a broad array of leading silicon technology and design services as a foundation to drive future innovation," Steve Ray, IBM's vice president of microelectronics, said in a statement.

In August, IBM announced the formation of the OpenPower Consortium, an industry alliance formed to promote IBM's flagging Power microprocessor architecture for back-end systems in an effort to better compete with Intel and ARM.

Google and Nvidia were among the first companies to join the consortium. IBM sweetened the pot for potential partners by opening up its proprietary Power-based hardware and software technologies to outside developers for the first time — a page taken out of ARM's playbook — and will offer licenses for parties wishing to use Power IP in their own products.

An ARM spokesperson called IBM's new willingness to license its flagship semiconductor IP a "validation of the ARM business model and our approach that one size does not fit all in the server market."

Meanwhile, Broadcom earlier this month announced its own new 64-bit ARMv8-based multi-core processor architecture for networking and communications chips. The company said it will be using its ARMv8-A architectural license to develop a new "server-class" CPU featuring the "industry's highest performance 64-bit ARM core" and designed for a new open, ISA-independent Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) software environment which is also under development.

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