ARM + TSMC leading Intel in SOC technology, says East

ARM + TSMC is leading Intel in process technology for highly integrated mobile SOCs, ARM’s CEO Warren East tells EW.


Asked if it was the aspiration of ARM’s physical IP division, working with TSMC, to catch up with Intel in process, East replied: “Implicit in your question is that we’re behind Intel. Intel is doing 22nm for Ivy Bridge but, when it comes to mobile SOCs, ARM + TSMC are doing 28nm planar CMOS for SOC, while Intel is using a 32nm metal gate process for SOC. We want to have highly integrated SOC devices. These are more difficult to put together than microprocessors.”

ARM is working with TSMC to develop optimised processes for ARM-based SOCs. “Our mutual customers want to create products competitive with the Intel world,” says East. “with ARM + TSMC customers have an optimised solution. We’re optimising our physical IP working up to system design, and down to the transistors with POPs (Processor Optimisation Packs) attuned to semiconductor process technology.”

Asked what he expected the performance of ARM-based Windows 8 computers would be like, East replies: “There are hints in the Microsoft Surface. There are two versions, one ARM, one x86. The ARM version weighed two thirds less, it was two thirds of the thickness and it didn’t have cooling vents. It suggests to me that it’s a lower power design.”

Next year, Intel is intending to put its Atom processors onto its 22nm finfet process which may improve Atom’s power efficiency. It’s got some way to go. “An 800MHz ARM delivers the same performance as a 1.6GHz Atom,” says East.

Asked if ARM’s 64-bit architecture is for servers, East says: “Yes but we’re also finding interest in the networking community, in mobile phone apps processors and from mobile computing companies.”

TSMC is moving to finfets at 20nm which will change the physical IP requirements, which is where ARM is working particularly closely with TSMC, but won’t change the processor design.

Asked how finfets would affect the performance of ARM cores, East says: “The performance has little to do with us. It depends on what the foundry is expecting.”

TSMC’s expectations for planar 20nm over 28nm are a 1.9x increase in density, 25% less power requirement and 15-20% more performance.

Presumably TSMC wouldn’t be introducing finfets at 20nm unless its performance characteristics are better than that.

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