SAN JOSE, Calif. — IBM has licensed a set of five ARM cores for use in communications ASICs it makes for its semiconductor customers. The move is a milestone in the shift toward the ARM architecture in communications.
IBM licensed the ARM Cortex-A15, A12, A7, and M4 processors, as well as the Mali-450 graphics core. It aims to use them in customer ASICs for routers, switches, and wireless base stations but not products for its internal use.
To date, Big Blue primarily used its own PowerPC cores in ASICs. However, comm chip vendors including Freescale, LSI, and Cavium are adopting ARM cores in their latest SoCs.
"This deal makes a lot of sense, and saves IBM the trouble of maintaining its own CPU cores," said Linley Gwennap, senior analyst of the Linley Group. "IBM has been offering PowerPC cores (e.g., 405, 440) through their ASIC business, but it has not updated these cores for years, so they are getting stale [meanwhile] ARM has become quite popular," he said in an email exchange.
"IBM also does ASICs for set-top boxes which is probably why they picked up a Mali license," he added.
"With the addition of the ARM's [cores] and peripherals, our clients will now have the broadest array of leading silicon technology and design services available – giving them the ability to create the next generation of communications hardware," said Steve Ray, VP Microelectronics at IBM, in a press statement.
"This agreement will result in a highly competitive portfolio of custom ARM-based solutions being deployed by leading networking infrastructure companies worldwide," said Tom Cronk, general manager of ARM's processor division, noting IBM already uses ARM's Artisan peripheral cores.