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Microsoft Signs License With ARM 148

Posted by kdawson
from the armed-and-dangerous dept.
G143 and several other readers let us know that Microsoft has signed a licensing deal with ARM. "Microsoft signed an agreement with the UK-based ARM, giving Microsoft access to some of the chip designer's intellectual property. The two companies have worked together since 1997, but Ian Drew, ARM's EVP of marketing, said this is the first time Microsoft has become a licensee of ARM's architecture, a move which will allow Microsoft to design their own microarchitecture. Other licensees include Qualcomm, Marvell, and Infineon. Neither company would reveal the cost of the license. Speculation about Microsoft's intentions includes wondering whether the company is taking aim at the iPad, or perhaps looking to produce a next-generation Xbox without the 360's heat problems."
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Microsoft Signs License With ARM

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  • Embrace... (Score:3, Funny)

    by tsa (15680) on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:35PM (#33004316) Homepage

    Embrace, extend,... thrive! I guess.

    • by garyisabusyguy (732330) on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:46PM (#33004434)

      The ARM core is so widely licensed that it would be hard to find a modern handheld device that does NOT contain one.

      "Many semiconductor or IC design firms hold ARM licenses; Analog Devices, Atmel, Broadcom, Cirrus Logic, Energy Micro, Faraday Technology, Freescale, Fujitsu, Intel (through its settlement with Digital Equipment Corporation), IBM, Infineon Technologies, Nintendo, NXP Semiconductors, OKI, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sharp, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and VLSI are some of the many companies who have licensed the ARM in one form or another" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARM_architecture#ARM_licensees [wikipedia.org]

      IMHO, this is a non-story.

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:55PM (#33004546) Journal
        It is something of a story, though: "Many semiconductor or IC design firms hold ARM licenses". Microsoft is, historically, neither of those things and; because of the number of existing ARM licensees, they can already get virtually any ARM based SoC configuration that you could reasonably desire, at highly competitive prices, off the shelf, without any sort of license.

        Microsoft using ARM cores would be a total non-story. I'm pretty sure that they already do, in a number of capacities. Becoming an ARM licensee, though, means that you have a plan that goes well beyond shoving some off-the-shelf chips into your product. Since MS doesn't seem like a logical entrant into the chip fab market, this development means that they have some kind of design demand up their sleeve that the market for commodity SoCs hasn't delivered....
        • by garyisabusyguy (732330) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:01PM (#33004634)

          I had a couple of 'why' questions and found a possible answer.

          This Intel forum:
          http://software.intel.com/en-us/forums/showthread.php?t=67843 [intel.com]

          Contains many complaints about the performance of the Intel compiler under WinCE (as well as Intel selling it all off to Marvel).

          If you ask me, MS wants a chip that they can optimize for their OS. Seems liek this will lead it down a proprietary hole, not unlike Apple.

          So, is that the real story, "MicroSoft, now more like Apple!"

          • by Joce640k (829181)

            Ummm...doesn't Microsoft have their own C++ compiler for Intel chips?

            • There is a big difference between writing a compiler for a chip that you do not manufacture, and writing a compiler for a chip that you can add extensions to in order to support faster performance.

              It reminds me of Suns attempt to create a picoJava compiler that did not have to perform jit compiling and could directly run bytecode

            • by gbjbaanb (229885)

              no, but Intel has a compiler for Intel chips :)

              It runs on Windows too.

          • So, they'll write a Windows for the ARM? And where will they use that core?

            I'd bet they want it to their periferals, that just make a lot more sense. With that IP, they can design custom chips for them and reduce costs or increase functionality beyhond what their competitors are able to.

          • Could they be looking at an equivalent of Jazelle but for C#?

            I don't see microsoft having enough engineers willing to work on an ARM core unless MS has something they want to try and pull the industry with. The idea of an optimized core might make sense, but i'm not sure how much they could change it without running into problems.

        • Ah, Kin V2.
        • Since the have licensed the arcitecture and the instruction set they are in the position of starting grouond up on ARM isntruction set compatible design and/or (heavily) modifying the exiciting core design. As the poster above pointed out they must have a need that is not serviced by the exisiting SOC comunity.

          The prime candidate (IMO) is something in the Xbox3. After being burned by not controlling the CPU and GPU designs chipset parts for the Xbox1 they had tighter control on the Xbox2 (360) with thier
          • by tlhIngan (30335)

            The prime candidate (IMO) is something in the Xbox3. After being burned by not controlling the CPU and GPU designs chipset parts for the Xbox1 they had tighter control on the Xbox2 (360) with thier own 3 core Power PC design.

            I don't see it as a core processing element, but maybe as an IO controller or something. But that would be awful since it's a lot of extra coding, especially multi-architecture coding.

            However, it's also possible that Microsoft is considering some sort of portable Xbox system. ARMs just

            • As it happens, there is (at least) one ARM processor in many xbox 360 systems:

              The Microsoft xbox360 wifi adapter [free60.org] is based on the Marvell Libertas 8388, which has an embedded ARM946 onboard. (In a curious twist, the OLPC XO-1 uses the same chipset, in order to have a core to handle mesh networking duties when the main CPU is off.)
        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Since MS doesn't seem like a logical entrant into the chip fab market, this development means that they have some kind of design demand up their sleeve that the market for commodity SoCs hasn't delivered....

          BSOD in silicone?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by tsa (15680)

        But those are all hardware companies... oh, wait... But I did score a Funny! :)

      • by firewood (41230)

        The ARM core is so widely licensed that it would be hard to find a modern handheld device that does NOT contain one.

        Not only handhelds. There's a good chance your Wintel laptop or desktop PC might have one hidden in its disk controller or wifi chipset as well.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:36PM (#33004322)

    Is the soon to be announced licensing with And A Leg Technologies.

  • ... I shouldn't ask if it'll be running Linux?
  • XBox Portable? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Reilaos (1544173)

    The first two things that come to mind when putting Microsoft and ARM together are Windows Phone 7 Phones and portable gaming systems, not slate tablets and full-on consoles.

    • It also doesn't make much sense for Microsoft to change the xbox architecture that much, since it has always been basically a PC and it has all the same systems like DirectX, .NET and the usual compatibility with Windows.

      It would however make perfect sense for Windows Mobile.

      • Re:XBox Portable? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Tom9729 (1134127) <tom9729@gmai l . c om> on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:59PM (#33004604) Homepage

        Most (all?) Windows Mobile devices already run on ARM. Windows CE has supported ARM since 1997.

      • Re:XBox Portable? (Score:5, Informative)

        by MightyYar (622222) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:10PM (#33004722)

        It also doesn't make much sense for Microsoft to change the xbox architecture that much, since it has always been basically a PC and it has all the same systems like DirectX, .NET and the usual compatibility with Windows.

        I just had to check the calendar to make sure it wasn't 2001.

        They abandoned the PC-like architecture with the 360. It now runs a PowerPC hybrid chip.

      • It also doesn't make much sense for Microsoft to change the xbox architecture that much, since it has always been basically a PC and it has all the same systems like DirectX, .NET and the usual compatibility with Windows.

        It would however make perfect sense for Windows Mobile.

        Maybe they are going for "x-box portable"

        although if they just shrunk down the existing x-box design to hand-held proportions, they could advertise themselves as having the world's first hand-held gaming system/hotplate.

  • Intel's reaction (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bonch (38532) on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:43PM (#33004402)

    I wonder what Intel's response is, especially since Microsoft is such a long-time partner. Apple went with A4, and here Microsoft is licensing ARM too. The emerging market is mobile computing, so what's the future for Intel? Surely, they can't live on x86 forever, and Atom currently isn't competitive with ARM when it comes to battery life.

    • by DeadboltX (751907)
      Different processors for different applications.

      It is difficult to stick a full sized car engine into a scaled down remote control car. It is difficult to move a full sized car with a scaled down remote control car engine.
      • by doconnor (134648)

        That wouldn't be true if remote control car engine where doubling in power every 18 months.

    • Future for Intel will be Microsoft's largest business area, desktop computers, just like now. I very much doubt that Microsoft is planning to change to ARM with Windows.

    • Intel already licenses the ARM architecture and uses it in their xScale line of processors

      Currently Intel supplies compilers, but this Intel forum contains many complaints about performance under WinCE.

      http://software.intel.com/en-us/forums/showthread.php?t=67843 [intel.com]

      Seems, like MicroSoft decided to take things into their own hands

      • by ADRA (37398)

        *cough* Xscale was sold to Marvell 4 years ago...

        • Thanks for the info, however;
          "The acquisition was completed on November 9, 2006. Intel was expected to continue manufacturing XScale processors until Marvell secures other manufacturing facilities, and would continue manufacturing and selling the IXP and IOP processors, as they were not part of the deal.
          The XScale effort at Intel was initiated by the purchase of the StrongARM division from Digital Equipment Corporation in 1998. Intel still holds an ARM license even after the sale of XScale."
          http://en.wikipe [wikipedia.org]

        • by sznupi (719324)

          Intel probably still has something. Recent "Atom for smartphones" most likely includes an ARM core in its radio interface. And in the "southbridge" there's a part described as 32 bit host controller (or something like that) - would be surprising if not some ARM (why wouldn't it be one?)

    • Well, for the mobile market, the chip has been at the discretion of the WinMobile maker. Most of them use ARM based chips anyway. So it's not like Intel would lose any more business.
    • by renoX (11677)

      > The emerging market is mobile computing, so what's the future for Intel?

      Well, the PC market is not going anywhere, so it means that Intel will still make *huge* benefits with x86 and have the best fabs.

      > Surely, they can't live on x86 forever, and Atom currently isn't competitive with ARM when it comes to battery life.

      For now.. But having the best fabs, it's quite possible that Intel will be able to make x86 competitive in battery life,
      but this may be also too late: now software compatibility for sm

      • Intel is counting on their manufacturing to get up to ARM in a performance per watt ratio, the problem is that ARM is manufactured in so many fabs that some of them already are working on 20nm cortex A9s which means Intels master plan has failed again.

        It is particularily nasty becase most programs in the mobile world are compiled against native arm instructions and even if they use java lots of them have native code integrated. Intel faces the same problem in the mobile world as others do in the Desktop com

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      Intel already got snubbed for the Xbox 360. Doesn't seem to have affected the relationship any.

      Honestly, Microsoft seems to be relatively CPU-agnostic anyway. For example, they picked AMD's 64-bit instruction set over Intel's. They didn't seem to hesitate when picking a PPC-based chip over an Intel chip in the Xbox 360, and they've never had any qualms about selling Windows to be installed on AMD computers.

  • by FreonTrip (694097) <freontripNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:46PM (#33004436)
    Any number of potential reasons exist for this license, but that's the one which bubbles to mind most readily.

    In before the "What's that giant thing in your pocket?" "That's what she said!" engine gets warm.

    • by kg8484 (1755554)

      Doesn't seem likely to me. From what I can tell, the PSP was profitable for Sony, but it is being sorely beaten by the Nintendo DS series and now standalone portable video game sales are being cannibalized by smartphones. I would say that this is more likely to end up in a Zune phone and will be Microsoft's in-house alternative to nVidia's Tegra processors. I will chuckle if they contract AMD/ATI to do the graphics again, kind of like how they switched to ATI graphics when building the XBox 360 processor.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Yvan256 (722131)

      Is that a fire in your pants or are you just happy to see me?

  • I wonder what MS has in mind. You don't have to be an ARM licensee to use ARM chips in your designs. For large enough orders, there are already a number of outfits that will implement customized ARM SoCs with your choice of functional blocks, and either fab them or farm the design out to somebody else, on a variety of processes. For smaller orders, there are even more outfits who have ARM SoCs, in a variety of common configurations, in stock and ready to go. Lead times pretty much limited by Fedex for small
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wowbagger (69688) on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:53PM (#33004528) Homepage Journal

      "... ARMs supporting a CLR environment...."

      Actually, that would be my guess: Microsoft wants to make an ARM chip that implements the Common Language Runtime in the microarchitecture, just as some ARM chips now implement the Java runtime in the microarchitecture. They may also want to add instructions to bring even more Trusted Platform Computing Model down into the ARM core.

      They may also want to make an ARM core that implements a graphics accelerator more friendly to the Direct3D model (and less friendly to OpenGL ES) than is currently available.

      • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MightyYar (622222) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:02PM (#33004646)

        Microsoft wants to make an ARM chip that implements the Common Language Runtime in the microarchitecture

        The thought of Microsoft shipping code that they cannot patch later is at least somewhat amusing to me.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Microlith (54737)

        Fundamentally altering the ARM core logic at the level required to add CLR support (similar to the Java implementations) requires a license on a level that ARM does not give out. Only a handful of companies, Apple being one of them, hold the necessary license to do so (mostly the founding companies.)

      • by ADRA (37398)

        I think that the CLR thing has more credence than some of the other suspicions. That type of chip is really something that only Microsoft would spearhead, and the fact is that I don't think MS would make a better chip than what it would cost to license it from others.

        That said, a Desktop level performance ARM chip is something that hasn't been done yet, so maybe this is just an Xbox play.. It couldn't hurt their 'runs on all devices' initiative having two of their platforms sharing the same CPU architecture

        • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Informative)

          by Brit_in_the_USA (936704) on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:44PM (#33005924)

          That said, a Desktop level performance ARM chip is something that hasn't been done yet,

          It has been done. I used to own a RISC PC desktop with 200Mhz StrongARM CPU at the time x86 PC's were maxing out with 90MHz Pentium. Other than in FP applications it ran laps around the Intel chips of the time.
          It is also worth noting the StrongARM was in a plastic package with no heatsink as it dispated so little heat.

          Ultimately the platform stalled at this CPU achievement and Intel eventually caught up and surpassed (on the speed front anyway). I often wonder if (the lack of speed bumps to StrongARM for a very long time) had anything to do with Intel taking over the design/manufacture.

        • by dfghjk (711126)

          "That said, a Desktop level performance ARM chip is something that hasn't been done yet,..."

          The very first ARM processor was for a desktop.

      • by hackerjoe (159094)

        Interesting speculation but unlikely. The Java-specific mode (Jazelle) is deprecated; ARM's for a few years already been moving instead to a mode that supports CLR and JVM managed runtimes equally well, called ThumbEE, which is already in the newer Cortex A8-based smartphone chipsets:

        ThumbEE in Jazelle article on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]
        Information on ThumbEE from the ARM tech docs [arm.com]

        It's a much more elegant approach -- do all the easy transformations via JIT compilation to the existing native ARM instructions, and add a han

      • by joe_bruin (266648)

        They may also want to make an ARM core that implements a graphics accelerator more friendly to the Direct3D model (and less friendly to OpenGL ES) than is currently available.

        The ARM core has nothing to do with graphics. The graphics accelerator is a discrete logic unit chosen by the SOC maker to integrate into the chip. This part uses the standard AHB/AXI (ARM Host Bus) interface. A major architecture license is not required to do this.

        CLR acceleration, on the other hand, seems like a possibility. They could replace the Jazelle (Java) mode. More likely, though, they will extend the ARMv7 ThumbEE mode, which is designed for this sort of thing. Here's the synopsis of ThumbE

      • by JAlexoi (1085785)
        FYI: The Jazelle in ARM's is the JVM "accelerator", not H/W level JVM.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Amouth (879122)

      i'm betting on 5 things - 1-5 most likely to doubt

      #1) and and most likely (as it has the highest chance to fail) - MS tries to make it's own hardware for it's Win7 phone OS so that they don't get the bad rap they did with windows mobile on phones that didn't have the hardware to run them

      #2) they might be looking into using it for the next xBox - and at that point doing it in-house so they don't have to rely on IBM as they have in the past (them supporting IBM who is also being supported by Sony can make it

  • They'll try to built a Ironman suit.
  • Was it the right or the left?
  • Windows phone (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Local ID10T (790134) <ID10T.L.USER@gmail.com> on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:07PM (#33004698) Homepage

    Speculation about Microsoft's intentions includes wondering whether the company is taking aim at the iPad, or perhaps looking to produce a next-generation Xbox without the 360's heat problems.

    Seriously? Microsoft has been chasing the smartphone market for a while now, but keeps having performance issues. They want a custom designed chip for their next gen smartphone.

  • It's not surprising... A lot of things have been pointing to Microsoft building their own H/W in this space. HP canceling Slate and buying Palm. Dell going with Android. It makes a lot of sense for Microsoft to build their own ipod, ipad, and ARM based "netbook" like machines. If true, in the long run, I think this puts more pressure on Dell and HP.

  • And possibly even a PEN.
  • there is some company selling Atom CPU based servers and a lot of customers like them. Atom is just a Xeon with almost everything disabled due to manufacturing issues. Apple did a nice job with the A4 in terms of battery life and power consumption. MS will probably port Windows Server and other products to the architecture to keep VmWare and Linux at bay.

    and with tech demos of Apache running on the iPhone any idiot will say that ARM will end up in servers soon with the big plus being you can customize it to

    • by alen (225700)

      P.S. same story as Nokia. they sold dumb phones at cost and smart phones to drive profits. apple is killing that model.

      Intel sells i Core CPU's for branding and the profits are in the Xeons. All CPU's are manufactured as XEON's and binned when they are tested. ARM is about to demolish that model since it's dirt cheap to design and manufacture their CPU's.

    • by TeknoHog (164938)

      There are already supercomputers and servers based on POWER, MIPS and many other architectures. Broadly speaking, you can run open source operating systems on any architecture you like, or you can run closed systems on x86. Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do in this sense, but due to closed 3rd party applications, such versatility will never fly. Unless all the closed stuff is released as architecture-independent bytecode.

      Atom is just a Xeon with almost everything disabled due to manufacturing issues.

      I don't think this the case, they are probably completely different microarch

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Atom is just a Xeon with almost everything disabled due to manufacturing issues.

      Uh, no it's not.

      However, I agree that ARMs probably have a place in low-powered servers in the not too distant future.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ovu (1410823)

      Atom is a Xeon with things disabled due to manufacturing issues?? Dude you are out of your element.

      Atoms are manufactured in different facilities, designed by different teams, in a completely separate division of the company! Also, Xeons consume an order of magnitude more power than Atom.

      And remember that the reason Intel dominates is due to manufacturing capability. Nobody can touch them. They do not have massive batches of defective chips being packaged and sold.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        ...the reason Intel dominates is due to manufacturing capability. Nobody can touch them...

        Except in low power scenarios, it seems.

        • Actually in Low Power scenarios Intel is playing catch up and seriously you can license a single arm core (not a full license) for a few cents, so the bottom price line can be very low.
          Lower than what Intel can charge without losing money.

          Add to that that Intel seriously has to drop the x86 instruction set to come even close to ARMs performance per watt numbers and that ARM has started to outrun the Atom cores in its latest designs which will become visible in end user devices by the end of the year

    • Actually there was a news post a while ago that Microsoft has started to investigate into ARM for server usage. Google is doing currently the same. If you look at the performance numbers of the Cortex A9 compared to the ATOM you can see why, 2-3 times the performance compared to the ATOM with a fraction of the power drain ATOM causes. Intel has a serious problem there which they cannot resolve unless they drop x86 entirely in their low power cores, but they cannot do that because their userbase screams Wind

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Atom is just a Xeon with almost everything disabled due to manufacturing issues.

      No, Atom is a third-generation Pentium III with some bits from the Core series. You can think of it as a Pentium 3 with a more advanced memory controller and hyperthreading.

      with tech demos of Apache running on the iPhone any idiot will say that ARM will end up in servers soon with the big plus being you can customize it to your needs.

      It takes too much glue logic to pull that off. x86 processors get better at power-saving all the time. By the time ARM servers became commonplace, x86 would probably get competitive power consumption, and it would only lead to fragmentation of the market.

  • The NINTENDO DS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DeanCubed (814869)
    Both the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS used ARM7 and ARM9 chips. Now that Nintendo is using a different company from Japan to produce the architecture for the upcoming 3DS, perhaps Microsoft has decided to get into the handheld console race. I don't think this has anything to do with Apple or PC-related plans. This is the beginnings of X-Boy
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sznupi (719324)

      "X-Boy" seems to be quite...scary name. And one that they could go with.

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        Nice! Reminds me of the reason Winamp went from 3 to 5; they didn't want any "Winamp 4 skins".
  • They don't really need a particular project in mind, they have the cash at hand. Maybe they just want the option in their back pocket so they aren't backed into a corner.

  • Back when netbooks first appeared on the market, many of them ran Linux for cost and performance reasons. At the time the only shipping version of Windows was Vista which was ill-suited for machines running early Atom processors. Microsoft actually extended the life of XP [slashdot.org] so it could be used on netbooks, but protected the notebook market by adding irrelevant licensing requirements on XP sales like limits on screen sizes and maximum memory.

    Then we started hearing about a brand-new generation of ARM netboo [slashdot.org]

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      I don't know if MS now has a Windows 7 build that runs on ARM, or whether they needed this deal to release one, but if this means we'll be seeing netbooks with Windows 7 on ARM chips, it will block Linux from advancing in this space.

      Why? People don't buy PCs to run Windows, they buy PCs to run their Windows applications... few of which will run on ARM.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Hal_Porter (817932)

        Maybe they'll do ARM core that can run x86 instructions, Jazelle style. I.e. the most common 90% would map to ARM instructions via an extra pipeline stage, the rest would fault into an emulator.

        • Would not make sense from a performance point of view, jacelle is possible but it has been dropped in later designs because it was slower than JIT solutions. But even then the Java VM is a rather lean stack based vm which easily can be mapped, if you look at the hilarious dreadful bloat the x86 instruction set in reality is, you can see that an emulation on a totally different platform would mean a significant performance loss.
          Thats also the issue why no other architecture so far has replaced x86, you simpl

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