Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Monday, October 18, 2021

ARM Scales Chips for Datacenters, HPC 

ARM Ltd., the U.K. chip design and licensing vendor, is targeting datacenters and processors intended for high-performance computing in a chip process technology deal with the world's largest chip foundry.

ARM (LSE: ARM, NASDAQ: ARMH) and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (NYSE: TSM) announced a multiyear agreement this week to collaborate on leading-edge 7-nanometer FinFET process technology. (FinFET stands for fin-shaped field-effect transistor, an emerging process technology that reduces leakage current in systems-on-chip, or SoCs.)

The partners said the deal extends their existing partnership to push the latest device process technology into datacenters and next-generation networks. It also builds on previous collaboration on earlier generations of FinFET process technology used in ARM's chip intellectual property offerings.

Chip scaling is advancing in parallel with hyper-convergence in datacenters. ARM is attempting to make inroads in datacenters dominated by x86-based infrastructure through what it claims are up to 10-fold increases in compute density for specific datacenter workloads. The deal with TSMC enables the chip vendor to design processors aimed datacenters and network infrastructure that are optimized for the Taiwan foundry's 7-nanometer FinFET process technology.

The scaling of chip component densities translates to higher compute density across IT infrastructure while reducing power consumption, the partners claimed.

For TSMC, Hsinchu, Taiwan, collaboration with ARM allows it to migrate its chip process technology from mostly mobile devices to high performance computing as advanced scale architectures make inroads in the datacenter and other IT infrastructure.

TSMC said high-performance computing SoCs based on its latest chip processing technology would boost performance without a power penalty while reducing power consumption at the 10-nanometer FinFET process node.

ARM and TSMC have collaborated on previous generations of FinFET process technology. ARM's Cortex-A72 processor is based on TSMC's 16- and 10-nanometer FinFET process nodes.

ARM cores have slowly made their way into server SoCs. Late last year it announced new math libraries running on its 64-bit processors aimed at HPC servers. "The HPC community are early adopters of ARM-based servers and the introduction of optimized math routines build a foundation for enabling scientific computing on 64-bit ARM based compute platforms," the chip designer noted in statement releasing the libraries.

ARM also announced a partnership with chip networking specialist Cavium (NASDAQ: CAVM) to develop HPC and big data analytics software running on its ARM-based processing platform.

Meanwhile, semiconductor foundries like TSMC have been steadily moving down the chip-scaling curve from 16- to 10- to 7-nanometer designs based on lower power FinFET process technology. TSMC said in January it expects to begin production at the 7-nanometer node in 2017.

Along with HPC, ARM continues to target Internet of Things applications. Its IoT strategy focuses on development and scaling of its "mbed" technology, which includes a "full-stack" operating system tailored to its Cortex-M 32-bit microcontrollers and a "device server" that handles connections from IoT devices.

The chip vendor announced plans last September to collaborate with IBM on an IoT platform that would integrate ARM devices with IBM analytics services designed to collect data from networked appliances and sensors.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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