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Microsoft free to design ARM chips

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:operating system? processor? architecture?

Microsoft has signed an architectural license agreement with ARM Holdings plc, giving the software giant access to the ARM processor architecture and the freedom to design its own ARM chips. Details of the agreement were not provided.

The companies said in a statement that the agreement extends a collaborative relationship that has existed since 1997 when the two companies started working together on software and devices across the embedded, consumer and mobile applications.

By taking an architectural license, Microsoft gains the ability to create its own versions of chips that implement the ARM instruction set. In doing this Microsoft is following a path already followed by Qualcomm, Marvell and others. Apple is also thought to hold an architectural license from ARM put to use in the creation of the A4 processor used inside the iPad tablet computer, but that licensing deal has not been announced publicly.

Microsoft's taking of an architectural license could be related to consumer applications, such as the X-box games console, and enterprise and server computing applications where Microsoft is known to have been looking at the use of ARM hardware inside its Bing data centers.

"Microsoft is an important member of the ARM ecosystem, and has been for many years," said Mike Muller, CTO of ARM, in a statement. "With this architecture license, Microsoft will be at the forefront of applying and working with ARM technology in concert with a broad range of businesses addressing multiple application areas," he added.

"ARM is an important partner for Microsoft and we deliver multiple operating systems on the company's architecture, most notably Windows Embedded and Windows Phone," said KD Hallman, general manager, Microsoft, in the same statement. "With closer access to the ARM technology we will be able to enhance our research and development activities for ARM-based products."

Ian Drew, executive vice president of marketing at ARM, said of the deal: "It validates a lot more of our business model and its extends our relationship with Microsoft." However, Drew declined to comment on whether the deal was multi-generational, our extended that relationship with Microsoft into the computing and enterprise sector, an area where ARM is beginning to compete against chip giant and long-time Microsoft partner Intel. Nor would Drew say how long the deal had been in existence prior to its announcement.

"It's up to Microsoft what they do with this. You will have to ask them," Drew said.

A spokesperson for Microsoft said: "No interviews are being given about this and beyond what you see in the release, no further details are being shared. Microsoft and ARM have been working together for 13 years. This agreement extends the collaborative relationship between the companies. Microsoft supports several operating systems on the ARM architecture, most notably Windows Embedded and Windows Phone."

One thing that could change the mobile computing landscape significantly would be if Microsoft would support the running of the mainstream Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems on ARM processors.

- Peter Clarke
EE Times

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