CMC grabs ARM to speed on-chip system design

Canadian Microelectronics Corp. and ARM Ltd. announced Wednesday CMC’s inclusion in the ARM University Program, dramatically reducing the time CMC’s member universities will

need to design “”On-chip Systems,”” the partners said.

The transition from multi-chip microelectronics products to complete systems on a single chip (SOC) enables electronic devices that are smaller and more powerful, while at the same time, more affordable. But without the ARM SOC design and prototype package license, universities would continue having to design the core processors, one of three main SOC components, from scratch. The non-profit CMC has already procured wireless intellectual property from Tality Corp. Combined with a memory component from Virage Logic Corp., these parts compose the SOC platform trinity.

“”What the platforms provide is the capability to hook up the microprocessors such that the researchers can test their user ideas (without) needing to design from the bottom up their own processor layout, their memory on a chip. They can focus on the research ideas they’re testing,”” said Dr. Brian Barge, president and CEO of Kingston, Ont.-based CMC, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Innovation Trust. “”The SOC environments that we provide to researchers will give them state of the art capacity that cause — in an industry sense — faster time to market.””

Matt Lee, university program manager for Cambridge, U.K.-based ARM, said agreements like the one announced Wednesday increase awareness and potentially the product set of ARM.

“”What I would like to see, after a couple of years is a couple of hundred engineers that know about ARM,”” he said. “”I’d be ecstatic if we see some new ARM designs.””

Included in the ARM licence is access for more than 30 Canadian universities to a design kit containing an ARM7TDMI microprocessor. Prototypes the universities design with the access will be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. Outside of Europe, Taiwan and now Canada are the only sites currently within the ARM program’s reach. Lee said centralized organizations like CMC are required to make the program work in a given country.

“”What makes CMC unique is that we negotiate often deep discounts from suppliers,”” Barge said, adding that money paid by public agencies through CMC is matched by vendors in discounts.

CMC’s unique pull was enough to convince Dr. Res Saleh to return to Canada from the United States, where he was a professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana and Stanford University. Saleh, currently the director of the University of British Columbia‘s SOC lab and NSERC/PMC-Sierra chairholder in the university’s department of electrical and computer engineering, said the vast number of U.S. universities precludes the centralized structure that defines CMC.

Negotiating access to intellectual property from companies like arm entails licensing, legal and security issues a university would be hard pressed to navigate on its own, Saleh said. UBC’s lab, for example, features a separate network for computers housing the intellectual property, and coded lab doors that restrict access.

“”This research infrastructure isn’t anywhere else because it’s too tough to put it together for any one university,”” he said. “”It would be hard for me to go back to the U.S. at this point because this infrastructure isn’t down there.””

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