ARM Holdings plc (Cambridge, England) is turning its attention to non-volatile memory technology and that's good thing. Recent announcements have covered both magnetic RAM and correlated electron RAM and show ARM stepping up and helping to drive research that could move the electronics industry forward.
ARM is a well known as a supplier of intellectual property for processors. It is also well known as not being a manufacturer of its own chips and indeed not even a designer of complete chips. It is both fabless and chipless – and licenses processor cores to fabless and IDM chip companies in return for initial fees and royalties.
As such it would be easy for ARM to insist it is always some other company's responsibility to develop a manufacturing process, research a better transistor and develop a better memory. And in general that has been ARM's position through its more than 20 years of existence.
But as ARM has achieved greater global success the level of circuit integration has increased. Back in 1990 low-power logic through elegant minimal design was ARM's key benefit but significant amounts of memory were always an off-chip consideration. Subsequently the sizes of on–chip cache have grown and in contemporary application processors and SoCs multiple processor cores must access multiple on-chip memory spaces. Burning power in those memories is starting to become highly detrimental to efficient performance. Similarly moving memory contents on- and off-chip is power hungry. This all points to on-chip non-volatile memory available in a logic manufacturing process – or logic in a non-volatile process – as something very much to be desired.
Fundamental device capability has always linked to manufacturing process and design but in the past the biggest differentiator was design. Now, just as almost everyone and their dog is getting out of manufacturing and process development (see IBM) the balance could be tipping back towards knowing the ins and outs of quantum mechanically influenced