Spansion strengthened its position in the embedded systems solution sector with its first ARM licensing deal that will give it access to ARM Cortex-M and Cortex-R processor cores.
The move is part of Spansion's broader strategy to evolve from a memory chip vendor into a system-on-chip (SoC) company by leveraging its flash memory chip expertise and surrounding it with critical chip functions, including microcontrollers, analog and mixed-signal technology. Earlier this year, Spansion acquired Fujitsu's analog and microcontroller business for $110 million.
"With the acquisition of this microcontroller and analog business from Fujitsu, we have a broad portfolio of MCUs that will be relying on the processing, so we are going to be using ARM microcontroller at the core of this," said Saied Tehrani, Spansion's chief technology officer, in an interview.
"If you look at these chips, they will have an MCU, a lot of flash integrated into the same chip, some critical IP, depending on the application, and there will be graphic IP circuits in there," Tehrani said. "There will also be interface IP that make this chip communicate with other chips. Most of the controlling will be done based on using the ARM core."
Specific ARM cores licensed by Spansion include the Cortex-M0+, Cortex-M4, Cortex-M3, Cortex-R5, Cortex-R4, ARM9 and ARM7 processors. The lower-end M series will target industrial and consumer customers, while the higher performance M5 cores will be used in automotive applications, according to Tehrani. The ARM processors will be used in current and future Spansion products.
"This is the first step to license cores, establish a relationship to work with ARM and define what can be used in future generations," Tehrani added.
Tehrani believes that Spansion has a unique advantage over its competitors because of its foundation in the memory sector, mainly NOR flash. Spansion is bringing up NOR flash at the 40-nm process node with its foundry partner UMC, yielding lower power and higher density devices. "If you look at microcontrollers and SoCs, flash is becoming a significant part of that," Tehrani said.
Spansion considers itself to be well-positioned in the automotive space, a desirable market for many chip makers. The firm has a solid IP portfolio, which includes graphics, security and interface functions. "We have a lot of IP that is unique," Tehrani said. "ARM is generally available, but an important part of it."