ARM has taken a license to the Sonics interconnect patent portfolio and they will work together on power management...
IP has become a fact of life in all modern chips. No longer can any company design everything themselves and they rely on an increasing stable of partners to help them produce an end product that will save them time, money and reduce risk. But when a company licenses a piece of IP, they potentially take on another type of risk. What if their IP provider did not own all of the rights to the contents of their design? This is not something that many engineers worry about, but managers and legal counsel of large companies do. I can remember in the early days of IP licensing, one of the most hotly contested clauses had to do with indemnification, basically deciding who would end up being responsible if lawsuits emerged.
So, companies now buy their processors, their memory and memory controllers, a bunch of peripherals, some analog blocks and who knows what else from outside companies. Each of those providers would love to own a little more of every chip and so over time their footprint can grow. When that happens, what had been two independent IP providers that had no overlap, start to compete for the same turf, or what had been a relatively unimportant part of a chip becomes more central. This had apparently been giving some people a headache because we find out today that ARM has licensed most of the patents held by Sonics. Everyone knows ARM, but perhaps fewer are so familiar with Sonics. Sonics makes on-chip network IP. As the processor bus spread around more of the chip and as things such as routability, latency and performance become increasingly difficult to solve, the sophistication of the bus grows and starts to look more like an on-chip network and thus ARM was moving onto the turf of their smaller partner. Rather than allowing this to become a problem, they have decided to take the issue off the table. ARM may now use any of the Sonics technology in its future busses. Sonics in turn gains because ARM is not interested in connecting many of the other things within the chip, making it more likely that they will be selected for this function. They have chosen to not make the terms of the agreement public.
I spoke to Frank Ferro, director of marketing for Sonics and asked him about what this meant in terms of the Sonics network and AMBA in the future. He said that they would both continue and compete and they had always tried to make sure that the two were fully compatible with each other and that this would continue, but with even closer cooperation. The patent license was only for the existing patents and that any further patents obtained by Sonics would need to be separately licensed by ARM. No terms were disclosed but Frank pointed out that Sonics was not in need of the cash and that the company is doing quite well.
He also talked about an area in which the two companies expect to work together closely in the future. Chips are becoming more concerned about power consumption and power gating is a common technique being used to ensure that power is not unnecessarily consumed by pieces of the chip that are not necessary to the tasks at hand. Even when they have no activity, leakage power can cause chips to drain a battery faster than expected. The network has an important role to play as both a conveyer of information and it knows about in-flight traffic that might make shutting a block down be problematic. Also when commands are sent to a block that is powered down, how should the system respond? Again, the network can assist in putting together more intelligent ways to control this.Brian Bailey
– keeping you covered
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