ARM Opens Door to Make Custom Chips for HPC, AI

By Doug Eadline

October 19, 2023

It is safe to say that ARM isn’t a scrappy startup that was once the pride of the UK.  The US-based IPO made the chip designer a big-game chip player, and the new capital is kickstarting some major initiatives to find more customers for its products. A new effort called Total Design aims at making it easier for companies looking to design chips in-house, an idea gaining ground with the AI boom and chip shortages.

The initiative, which was announced by ARM this week at the annual OCP Summit, makes the entire process easier by giving customers a choice on what components to put in their homegrown server or AI chips.

The program also creates a new distribution layer in which chip designers will hawk ARM parts.

Customers will have the flexibility to patch together chips with ARM’s Neoverse CPUs via third-party chip designers and validators. The custom chips can then be taken to manufacturers like TSMC and Intel.

The announcement comes as chip makers take a modular approach to designing chips by patching together various subsystems, chips, IO, interconnects, and memory into a functional chip. The approach, called chiplets, makes the design and manufacturing of chips easier.

ARM Neoverse Processor

The Total Design initiative follows ARM’s August announcement of the Neoverse Compute Subsystem, which stitches together ARM’s IP blocks, CPUs, interconnect fabric, and the rest of the system components into pre-configured or power-performance-optimized compute subsystems.

While the August announcement was mostly around ARM IP, Total Design added third-party vendors to the mix.

“We have enabled the ecosystem of partners that are providing expertise in areas of design services or third-party IP working with leading foundries to help partners get to market faster,” said Imran Yousuf, director of the hardware ecosystem and the infrastructure Line at ARM, in a press briefing.

Yousuf said the approach also lowers development costs and accelerates the time to market for customers.

Amazon and SiPearl are notable companies that have made server chips based on Neoverse designs.

ARM’s Total Design also creates a new line of chip designers as sellers of ARM-based chips.

For example, TSMC is designing a new multi-chiplet design based on Neoverse for its upcoming 2-nanometer process. Customers can go to chip designer Socionext to create custom chiplets based on Neoverse for TSMC’s 2-nm process. Socionext will also sell ARM designs for hyperscale, cloud, server, 5G, and AI applications.

Beyond TSMC, Intel Foundry Services is also listed as an ARM partner for Total Design. Other notable partners include Broadcom, Capgemini, Rambus, and Synopsys.

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