Oct
08
2019
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Arm brings custom instructions to its embedded CPUs

At its annual TechCon event in San Jose, Arm today announced Custom Instructions, a new feature of its Armv8-M architecture for embedded CPUs that, as the name implies, enables its customers to write their own custom instructions to accelerate their specific use cases for embedded and IoT applications.

“We already have ways to add acceleration, but not as deep and down to the heart of the CPU. What we’re giving [our customers] here is the flexibility to program your own instructions, to define your own instructions — and have them executed by the CPU,” ARM senior director for its automotive and IoT business, Thomas Ensergueix, told me ahead of today’s announcement.

He noted that Arm always had a continuum of options for acceleration, starting with its memory-mapped architecture for connecting over a bus GPUs and today’s neural processor units. This allows the CPU and the accelerator to run in parallel, but with the bus being the bottleneck. Customers also can opt for a co-processor that’s directly connected to the CPU, but today’s news essentially allows Arm customers to create their own accelerated algorithms that then run directly on the CPU. That means the latency is low, but it’s not running in parallel, as with the memory-mapped solution.

arm instructions

As Arm argues, this setup allows for the lowest-cost (and risk) path for integrating customer workload acceleration, as there are no disruptions to the existing CPU features and it still allows its customers to use the existing standard tools with which they are already familiar.

custom assemblerFor now, custom instructions will only be available to be implemented in the Arm Cortex-M33 CPUs, starting in the first half of 2020. By default, it’ll also be available for all future Cortex-M processors. There are no additional costs or new licenses to buy for Arm’s customers.

Ensergueix noted that as we’re moving to a world with more and more connected devices, more of Arm’s customers will want to optimize their processors for their often very specific use cases — and often they’ll want to do so because by creating custom instructions, they can get a bit more battery life out of these devices, for example.

Arm has already lined up a number of partners to support Custom Instructions, including IAR Systems, NXP, Silicon Labs and STMicroelectronics .

“Arm’s new Custom Instructions capabilities allow silicon suppliers like NXP to offer their customers a new degree of application-specific instruction optimizations to improve performance, power dissipation and static code size for new and emerging embedded applications,” writes NXP’s Geoff Lees, SVP and GM of Microcontrollers. “Additionally, all these improvements are enabled within the extensive Cortex-M ecosystem, so customers’ existing software investments are maximized.”

In related embedded news, Arm also today announced that it is setting up a governance model for Mbed OS, its open-source operating system for embedded devices that run an Arm Cortex-M chip. Mbed OS has always been open source, but the Mbed OS Partner Governance model will allow Arm’s Mbed silicon partners to have more of a say in how the OS is developed through tools like a monthly Product Working Group meeting. Partners like Analog Devices, Cypress, Nuvoton, NXP, Renesas, Realtek,
Samsung and u-blox are already participating in this group.

Jul
25
2018
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Qualcomm says it will drop its massive $44B offer to acquire NXP

Qualcomm today said it wouldn’t extend its offer to buy NXP for $44 billion today as part of its release for its quarterly earnings, and instead be returning $30 billion to investors in the form of a share buy-back.

So, barring any last-second changes in the approval process in China or “other material developments”, the deal is basically dead after failing to clear China’s SAMR. As the tariff battle between the U.S. and China has heated up, it appears the Qualcomm/NXP deal — one of the largest in the semiconductor industry ever — may be one of its casualties. The White House announced it would impose tariffs on Chinese tech products in May earlier this year, kicking off an extended delay in the deal between Qualcomm and NXP even after Qualcomm tried to close the deal in an expedient fashion. Qualcomm issued the announcement this afternoon, and the company’s shares rose more than 5% when its earnings report came out.

“We reported results significantly above our prior expectations for our fiscal third quarter, driven by solid execution across the company, including very strong results in our licensing business,” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said in a statement with the report. “We intend to terminate our purchase agreement to acquire NXP when the agreement expires at the end of the day today, pending any new material developments. In addition, as previously indicated, upon termination of the agreement, we intend to pursue a stock repurchase program of up to $30 billion to deliver significant value to our stockholders.”

Today’s termination also marks the end of another chapter for a tumultuous couple of months for Qualcomm. The White House blocked Broadcom’s massive takeover attempt of Qualcomm in March earlier this year, and there’s the still-looming specter of its patent spat with Apple. Now Qualcomm will instead be returning an enormous amount of capital to investors instead of tacking on NXP in the largest ever consolidation deal in the semiconductor industry.

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