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Intel and Arm’s Landmark Collaboration: The Dawn of Optimised Mobile SoC Designs

In an April 2023 breakthrough, Intel Foundry Services (IFS) and Arm declared a partnership to optimise Arm’s IP for Intel’s 18A process technology. The focus, mobile designs, aims to deploy Design Technology Co-Optimization (DTCO) and System Technology Co-Optimization (STCO) to ensure Arm’s IP is ready for Intel’s impending production node and packaging technology.

Arm and IFS’s alliance plan to balance Arm’s IP performance, power use, and cost for future designs through DTCO. Key points include developing an Arm-powered mobile System on Chip (SoC) and enabling silicon technology, plus constructing a chip design reference platform.

The project, well underway, seeks to exhibit the efficiency of Arm’s SoC designs, taking into account performance, power, and area allocation on the Intel 18A process. An Arm representative outlined the firm’s commitment to generating optimised custom IP for Arm-based SoC designs, presenting licensees an alternative for advanced nodes targeting.

The initial ‘multi-generation’ collaboration will primarily concentrate on mobile SoC projects and relevant Arm IPs like Cortex-A CPU IPs and Mali GPU IPs. Further cooperation could potentially expand into sectors such as automotive, aerospace, data centres, IoT, and government applications. As Intel 18A has received a US Department of Defense endorsement, this partnership could enhance Arm licensee’s ability to meet US Army needs using optimised Arm IP.

This collaboration elevates IFS to the league of competitors like TSMC and Samsung Foundry, enabling it to manufacture SoCs based on optimised Arm IP. For Arm, the purpose is to get its cores fabricated by as many semiconductor makers as possible, exploiting a variety of production techniques. Meanwhile, Intel aims to massively increase its customer base, marking this partnership as a vital step forward.

While the initial collaboration focus is mobile SoCs, both companies envisage broader application possibilities, including vehicles to data centres. With Qualcomm expressing interest in using the Intel 18A process, the agreement presents a wide array of opportunities for Arm licensees, potentially benefiting major players like Apple and Samsung Electronics.

However, the precise details of the customisation of Intel’s RibbonFET and PowerVia technologies for mobile Arm IP remain undisclosed. Intel’s gate-all-around (GAA) technology, coupled with PowerVia and unique transistor designs, could offer enhanced performance, an aspect of interest for potential Arm mobile IP implementers.

In addition to transistor design optimisation, the alliance also promises system-technology co-optimisation (STCO), optimising applications, software, packages, and silicon. However, details of the potential role of Intel’s ‘EMIB’ and ‘Foveros’ packaging technologies are still unknown.

Finally, Intel’s ability to ensure production capacity for its 18A process in both the US and Europe could provide a strategic advantage for IFS, diversifying supply chains for customers in the context of an uncertain geopolitical climate.

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