ARM POPs Another One!

ARM POPs Another One!
by Daniel Nenni on 02-11-2016 at 4:00 pm

 ARM announced a new POP deal with UMC 28nm last week. POP stands for Processor Optimized Package meaning physical IP libraries (logic and memory) are customized for ARM processor cores and mainstream EDA tools creating a platform for optimized chip design. POP is a much bigger deal than most people realize so let’s get into a little more detail.

Having spent a significant amount of my 30+ year career in Semiconductor IP I may have a different view than most people. While EDA got the fabless semiconductor ecosystem and my illustrious career started, it was commercial semiconductor IP that got us to where we are today, absolutely.

Unfortunately, when we talk about IP it is usually Design IP versus Physical IP (PIP), the building blocks of modern semiconductor design (think Legos). These Lego blocks are used repeatedly throughout a design so the power and performance of the blocks are critical to the success of your chip.

Back in 1998 Artisan Components turned the IP business model upside down by offering free logic and memory libraries to design houses (the foundries paid Artisan wafer royalties). As one of many competing IP vendors I was horrified as we were making hundreds of thousands of dollars by delivering a single library and then suddenly they are free?!?!?!

Artisan did this as a result of competitive pressures of course but now, 18 years later, you can see what a brilliant move it was. Not only did it enable the $900M price ARM paid for Artisan in 2004, it was also the key enabler to thousands of design starts including our cherished mobile devices (Apple’s iProducts). We covered the semiconductor history of Apple in our latest book “Mobile Unleashed: The origin and evolution of ARM processors in our devices” but we did not mention how important ARM POP was.

In a perfect world there would be logic and memory libraries customized for each and every design. Unfortunately this requires very large and experienced IP groups with millions of budget dollars for tools and test silicon. Clearly the top semiconductor companies do this but what about the rest of the world?

Artisan created “free” foundry specific libraries and made them available to the masses for rapid adoption. ARM took that one step further by providing foundry specific POP libraries optimized for designing with ARM cores to better meet timing and power requirements. This allows emerging and fast following semiconductor companies an opportunity to design chips that will better compete in the global market.

If you learn one thing from our book Mobile Unleashed it is that ARM is by nature a collaborative company. They started out working closely with customers, design partners, and foundries and that is still the key to their success today. POP is a clear example of that as ARM CPU, GPU, and PIP groups work closely together with customers, design partners, and foundries to continually improve this platform.

Right now I would bet that China is the biggest market for ARM POP since they have new design budgets but not the IP expertise. I would also bet that ARM POP will start focusing on specific vertical markets such as Automotive, Data Centers, and IoT in the very near future. And did I mention our second book “Mobile Unleashed: The origin and evolution of ARM processors in our devices” is out now?

“ARM and UMC Extend 28nm IP Partnership to Target Cost-Effective Mobile and Consumer Applications”

About POP IP
POP IP technology comprises three key elements necessary for optimized ARM processor implementation. These include Artisan physical IP logic libraries and memory instances tuned for a given ARM core and process technology, comprehensive benchmarking reports pinpointing conditions and results ARM achieved for core implementation, and detailed POP implementation knowledge and methodologies that enable end customers to achieve successful implementation quickly with minimized risk. POP IP products are available from 40nm to 28nm with roadmap down to FinFET process technology for a wide range of Cortex-A series CPU and Mali™ GPU products.

More articles from Daniel Nenni