LONDON – The leading customer of processor technology licensor ARM Holdings plc (Cambridge, England) by revenue contribution in 2010, according to Nomura Equities Research, comes as a bit of a surprise. The financial brokerage and analysis house says it was Intel Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.).
That was my reaction too and it begs the question: what ARM-supplied services, licenses or royalties was Intel paying millions of dollars for in 2010? ARM's revenue in 2010 was $631.3 million so a 7 percent contribution means that about $44 million flowed from Intel to ARM – according to Nomura.
I am scratching my head to make sense of this. Could it be some hard disk drive controller that Intel makes by the bucket-load includes an ARM core? Or is there some ARM core that has made its way into some dusty, otherwise-forgotten corner of an Intel memory controller or image processing block that has ended up in an Intel microprocessor?
And guess what? AMD is on the list ahead of the likes of Infineon, Apple and Qualcomm.
I make no defense of the list which is actually 15 entries long, but even if it is just Nomura's opinion it is an interesting talking point.
And it is what Nomura is telling potential investors in ARM Holdings plc in a 53-page note to clients that re-assesses Nomura's long-term view of ARM as a potential investment. Nomura attributes the customer ranking to "Bloomberg data as of Nov. 3, 2011," without much further discussion, except to say that ARM's customer base is broad and the company is not dependent on just a few customers.
Here's that Nomura/Bloomberg list in full, ranked by percentage contribution to ARM's revenue in 2010.
Intel 7.0% TSMC 5.7% Samsung 5.7% TI 4.6% NEC 3.5% ST 3.5% ZTE 2.8% Broadcom 2.6% AMD 2.5% Infineon 2.4% Apple 2.1% Qualcomm 2.0% Fujitsu 1.9% UMC 1.9% Lenovo 1.8%
It would, of course, be very interesting to see an equivalent list for 2011.
I asked Bloomberg to check the Intel figure and they said it was an error and they removed it from their database. Pity Nomura didn't check before publishing. I checked with ARM, and Intel (post Infineon wireless acquisition) is a top 10 customer. But ARM have never given a revenue breakdown by customer so I'm not sure where the rest of the Bloomberg data comes from ...
These numbers do not seem stupid but interesting because knowing customers of a company (more, ranking) is always a bit taboo.
I posted this discussion in ARM Based Group community because and added ARM's 2010 Annual Report (http://www.linkedin.com/groups/ARM-Inside-in-proportion-7-85447.S.88812149?qid=680c98d6-b2bc-41ab-8f32-dddd59e137cd&trk=group_most_popular-0-b-ttl&goback=%2Egmp_85447%2Egde_85447_member_88812149%2Egmp_85447).
But with the the Transitive processor emulation technology developed by Alisdair Rawsthorne at Univ of Manchester that would not be an impossibility. The Transitive technology was used by both Intel and Apple in the mid-2000s, and the technology was eventually bought by IBM as I remember.
However, ever I think it was mainly applied to PowerPC-x86 emulations.
Intel biggest customer of ARM?!
Ah a conspiracy theory.
Some of the new low power Intel chips are really ARM cores emulating the X86 instruction set.
This way AMD can be kept in the dark of how Intel has achieved such a low power in their devices.
It is not appropriate for me to discuss the specific top 15 ranking listed by Nomura. But I thought I could add a couple of clarifications using public data that might be of interest
1) The per-device royalty is typically a % of the device's ASP. One of the main drivers we discussed that caused this to drop in that time period was the rapid growth in MCU shipments where the ASPs are substantially lower (NXP as one example has devices priced at less than $1) than devices in smartphones
2) Of the $631.3M in FY10, ARM reported that the contribution of Physical IP (ARM aquired Artisan as opposed to Virage, the latter being purchased by Synopsys) royalty was $43.8M. Processor royalty for that year was $291.5M. So the majority of our revenue in that year came from processors
Since Nvidia is mostly fabless, its Tegra family would probably account for much of the TSMC number. With the resolve of the legal dispute between Intel and Nvidia, it is possible that Nvidia has also used Intel for some manufacturing.