ARM has signed an agreement with silicon foundry TSMC to collaborate on development of a 7nm process technology with the ultimate goal of producing future low-power, high-performance ARM architecture chips that will enable the firm to push beyond its dominance of the mobile device market and into next-generation networks and data centres.
ARM is primarily a design firm, producing the ARM instruction set and processor architecture and even complete silicon layouts, while leaving the manufacturing of processors and other chips based on these to partner firms, including Broadcom, Samsung, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and TSMC, otherwise known as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.
While ARM is well known for chips that power almost every smartphone and non-Windows tablet, the firm is keen to expand its reach into areas such as the data centre and network equipment, where the power efficiency of ARM-based chips may prove an advantage.
The latest move builds on previous collaborations between the two firms for 16nm and 10nm FinFET production processes, and aims to deliver a design solution for future 7nm low-power, high-performance system on a chip (SoC) products.
In response to questions from V3, TSMC said that its 7nm FinFET process is expected to come on stream for mass silicon production during the first half of 2018.
However, other firms have experienced technical difficulties in shrinking their production processes down to such a small size. Last year, IBM claimed to be the first to produce working 7nm chips, but that it was not yet ready to begin commercial manufacturing. Intel, meanwhile, has run into difficulties with its 10nm process that have seen the first chips pushed back from this year to the second half of 2017.
A TSMC spokesperson told V3 in a statement that "Our 7nm technology development progress is on schedule. TSMC's 7nm technology development leverages our 10nm development very effectively. At the same time, 7nm offers a substantial density improvement, performance improvement and power reduction from 10nm".
Meanwhile, ARM said that one of the purposes of the collaboration is to identify any potential challenges that mutual customers of the two firms will face when chip companies approach TSMC to mass produce their ARM-based designs at 7nm.
"As with our earlier collaborations, the technology design solution is meant to be a silicon proof point that addresses the appropriate workloads necessary for SoCs designed for data centres and/or next-generation networks," an ARM spokesperson told V3.
ARM has been drawing up its plans to target servers and next-generation networks for several years now, introducing a 64-bit version of its architecture and working with partners to bring SoCs appropriate for servers to fruition. AMD recently began commercial shipments of its Opteron A1100 chips, for example.
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