It takes a village to raise a child, so I have been told, but it also takes specialized skills and domain knowledge to convert Arm IP into a System on Chip (SoC). A wide variety of skills in architecture definition, IP selection, IP integration, design verification, and physical design are needed. Most Arm partners have these skills in-house and have established relationships with foundry and packaging house to manage the SoC production. More often than we might think, a significant portion of our partners also leverage design services companies in their SoC design.
With Flexible Access, Arm enables companies to access our IP at a low-cost or at $0 for qualifying startups. Our Field Application Engineers (FAEs) are available to guide designers through the technical details of the IP but, Arm does not offer design services. This is where the Arm Approved Design Partner (AADP) program members can help. Arm has thoroughly vetted each of the 20+ member companies AADPs to ensure they meet Arm quality standards through a thorough audit. The audit reviews three of their SoC designs with a particular focus on Arm IP-based designs and correlates their experience with their documented processes and methodologies. The team also looks into their IT infrastructure so that Arm IP and customer IP are protected. They even check their disaster recovery plans. Could you image being two days before tape-out and learn the servers crashed taking all of your design work with it? How would you recover? Rest assured, all the AADP members have a plan in place.
After passing the audit, the AADP Design Service members are provided with access to the IP included in Flexible Access. They are encouraged and supported to use it internally for evaluation, education, and in preparation to serve Arm Flexible Access members as well as other Arm partners. There is a second level to the program, the AADP SoC Services Tier, entitling members to the same commercial rights as a Flexible Access Member, with full capabilities to design, license, and supply the devices in production.
In a recent business review with 13 of the members, we identified 41 customer projects over the last 12 months. The range of services provided is as shown:
Clearly most projects utilize the front-end design and verification services, but AADP members serve all phases of the development of an SoC. In almost one third of the designs the AADP member provided full turnkey services, which means they designed and supplied the SoCs for their customers.
There is a wide range of SoC designs being implemented. Cortex-M processors are quite common, with everything from Cortex-M0 to Cortex-M55 projects. Cortex-R5 and Cortex-R52 designs are also popular, including designs for functional safety and automotive applications. Cortex-A processors include all those in Flexible Access, but the partners are also working with other processors like the Cortex-A55 to Cortex-A76, that are not included in Flexible Access. In total, there are 70 instances of the CPUs being reported in the 41 projects, so clearly heterogenous, multiprocessor designs are in use.
From a process technology, the usual foundry suspects (Global Foundries, Samsung, and TSMC) are working with designs down to 7nm. Most designs are targeted at 28nm and above. The largest geometry targeted was 130nm. While the partners are quite capable of servicing advanced nodes, the sweet spot in their services is on the more mature nodes, that is, the same nodes where custom SoCs are the most cost effective.
Arm Flexible Access was established to enable companies the freedom to confidently design, innovate, and manufacture their ideas with the best chances for success. If you have an idea and would benefit from some outside expertise, the AADP members are ready, and fully prepared to assist.
If you need help selecting the best Arm Approved Design Partner for your project, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can find the full list of Approved Design Partners here.