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ARM’s Race

Why the processor maker has suddenly started making deals with all the big EDA vendors.

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Prior to the Synopsys acquisition of Virage Logic, Synopsys seemed to have an almost exclusive relationship with ARM. Since then, Cadence and Mentor Graphics have both been cutting deals with ARM for support of its IP cores.

What’s changed? With regard to the Virage Logic acquisition, very little. Synopsys did acquire the ARC processor through that deal, but ARC had been much more focused on high-end audio and supplying all the necessary codecs that it decidedly was not a threat to ARM. And Synopsys and ARM continue to work closely together on a variety of fronts, both in ARM’s support of Synopsys’ standard IP for things like USB and Synopsys’ support of ARM’s processor IP.

But there has been far more activity between ARM and Synopsys’ top competitors of late. In September, Cadence rolled out an optimized implementation methodology for ARM’s new Cortex-A15 processor.  The two companies also created an ARM-Cadence Encounter reference methodology.  And this week, Mentor inked a deal for test and repair of ARM’s memories and processor cores.

So what gives? The answer may be less about competition between ARM and Synopsys than between ARM and Intel (and to a lesser extent Apple and MIPS). The two companies are about to embark on an all-out war in the tablet market and ARM is doing whatever it can to shore up the Cortex-A15 multicore processor as fast as it can. ARM’s big challenge has been performance, which it apparently has solved with the A15, while Intel’s big challenge is still power consumption. ARM has achieved its goal, and now Intel is racing to come up with a competitor, which it expects to introduce early next year.

While this is a new market for ARM, and potentially a massive opportunity, it’s unclear whether this is really a new market for Intel or one that potentially will cannibalize sales of notebook computers and netbooks. And ARM is wasting no time in marshaling whatever forces it can to roll out multiple generations of chips, IP and anything else necessary to win a piece of this new business.

–Ed Sperling