Arm Announces Total Design: Taking Neoverse CSS Forward

We recently covered the announcement of Arm’s Neoverse CSS Genesis N2 platform, a near off-the-shelf compute subsystem design created to accelerate the time to market for custom accelerators in leading edge infrastructure. We commented at the time that we could see Arm looking to expand the CSS Genesis product to cover additional services to accelerate development even further for companies looking to create custom silicon. And with their announcement at the OCP Global Summit 2023, Arm came closer to doing that with Arm Total Design.

Building An Ecosystem

Arm Total Design is a new initiative which creates a partner ecosystem covering nearly all aspects of custom silicon design, from the IP and EDA tooling for design, to the foundries and software required to produce and ship the final silicon. Arm intends this ecosystem to assist companies looking to develop custom silicon using Neoverse CSS. This is done by connecting companies with tooling, manufacturing, and design services to further accelerate development and provide access to leading edge IP and process nodes. To facilitate this, Arm is granting these partners early access to Neoverse CSS platforms and working with them to ensure their products and services are tailored to them. Companies looking to utilise the ecosystem can choose which services they wish to take and are not forced to use these partners if they wish to create a product using Neoverse CSS.

Arm has assembled a robust selection of partners from the silicon industry as part of this ecosystem, starting with pre-integrated and validated IP and EDA tools from Alphawave Semi, Cadence, Rambus and Synopsys. This should give customers access to a sizeable catalogue of IP and tools required to make RTL designs, which can be translated into physical silicon. Integration and validation of this IP is typically a significant portion of the development cycle for silicon, so Arm and its partners stand to reduce the design workload and enable faster adoption of new technologies. Whilst this list of partners is certainly strong, companies may wish to integrate their own IP, or designs from other companies, and will likely still have to spend a significant amount of time on integration in these situations.

Arm has partnered with design service providers to offer expert services for designing chips utilising Neoverse CSS and other Arm IP, plus more general design methodologies. These partners include ADTechnology, Broadcom, Capgemini, Faraday, Socionext, and Sondrel. Companies looking to create custom silicon will be able to engage these partners in order to support the development of their projects. This partnership is rather interesting, as it shows that Arm is not yet ready or willing to take the next step of producing full end-to-end SoC designs for their customers, preferring to leave this to partners instead. As with all consultancy-style offerings, these services will likely be pretty pricey, so we can imagine that these services may only see use from larger companies who don’t wish to build out their own engineering teams in the custom silicon space.

Arm has also partnered with TSMC and Intel Foundry Services (IFS) to facilitate manufacturing these custom designs, and to optimise their IP for leading-edge process nodes and advanced packaging technologies. As mentioned in the Neoverse CSS Genesis N2 announcement, the Genesis N2 platform is launching with full optimisations for TSMC’s N5 process node and this partnership looks to extend this further. The additional partnership with IFS shows that Arm is choosing to diversify its customers’ supply chain options. It is notable that Samsung seems to have been hung out to dry here, with no involvement as of the time of this announcement. It will be interesting to see if they become part of this ecosystem in the future, as well as other specialised and non-leading edge foundries like Global Foundries.

Finally, to wrap it all up, Arm has brought on American Megatrends International (AMI) to provide the commercial software and firmware platforms to enable full system integration of custom silicon products. Many readers will have seen the name American Megatrends before, most often as they boot their computers for the first time. AMI are one of the largest providers of UEFI firmware used by motherboard manufacturers, OEMs, and system integrators to build the platforms that silicon runs on. Bringing AMI into the ecosystem will enable Arm customers to obtain the remaining software required to integrate their custom silicon into infrastructure platforms ready for deployment. However, it is odd to see this limited to only a single vendor, which significantly limits options, so we hope to see more firmware vendors in the future.

Probably the biggest notable absence from this list of partners is someone who can take a list of requirements and work with these companies to give you a final piece of silicon. This more project management and consultancy oriented piece could possibly be driven by the design houses mentioned, but this would likely be at additional expense. More than likely this process would be managed by the customer, potentially resulting in a need to allocate more resources to a custom silicon project and still creating further expense. This will likely be a significant gap that Arm needs to fill within this pipeline for some customers to take up this offering, as other vendors will likely include this within a semi-custom offering.

Another notable but more minor absence from this ecosystem of partners is a final system integrator to build the platform that these chips operate in. These are typically done by the likes of Foxconn or Super Micro and would enable the chips to be deployed into a final production environment, especially if they are intended to operate as a fully standalone system without using an existing general purpose CPU. We hope to see Arm expand its list of partners in this direction.

Bringing Arm Chiplets to the Masses

During this announcement, Arm took particular time to note their support for their customers looking to adopt chiplet designs as part of their custom silicon strategies. Arm is collaborating with the members of its Arm Total Design ecosystem and the broader industry to support initiatives to enable chiplets. Support for AMBA CHI C2C, UCIe, and others should enable companies adopting Neoverse CSS to easily opt for a chiplet strategy.

We’ve seen chiplet designs (from vendors such as AMD and Intel) enable the integration of a wide range of accelerators using different process nodes. By ensuring that Neoverse CSS has full support for these initiatives, Arm is opening the door for their partners and customers to create optimised designs for specialised workloads in a time efficient manner.

One of the most interesting announcements is that Arm partner Socionext have produced a multi-core CPU chiplet, which customers will be able to integrate into their designs. This chiplet utilises Neoverse CSS and is being developed on TSMC’s N2 class process nodes. This, to our knowledge, is the first official announcement of a product on the N2 process node and indicates that silicon utilising this design would be looking to ship in the second half of 2025 or the first half of 2026 based on TSMCs current roadmaps.

Final Words on Arm Total Design

When we first discussed Neoverse CSS back in September, we were quite curious to see how Arm would choose to evolve the product and create incentives for potential customers to adopt the solution. Arm stands to benefit significantly from the surging interest in custom silicon development, with their IP products standing out in the market compared to semi-custom solutions on offer from the x86 giants or very early stage developments of the RISC-V ecosystem. Arm Total Design is a next step in enabling customers to access all the other products and services they would need to push forward with a custom silicon strategy, so we can certainly see this increasing the appeal of the Neoverse CSS offering. This will especially be the case for companies looking to step into this for the first time, with names like Google Cloud and Alibaba coming to mind as possible customers.

A big question that remains is how others will respond to the push from Arm around Neoverse CSS. Whilst it certainly makes it easier to create custom Arm chips, the investment required in time, engineering effort and funding certainly remains a barrier to entry for many businesses. Some may prefer to look to the semi-custom strategies offered by AMD and Intel to support their tailored silicon efforts, with these strategies typically having lower risk and shorter turnaround times. Intel specifically have also previously mentioned that they may wish to offer a similar model to the Neoverse CSS offering, providing the IP required to create a tailored chip and the foundry to produce it through their IFS group.

What we found most interesting within this announcement was the clear indication that this is a long-term ambition from Arm, with announcements for TSMC’s N2 process node indicating they intend to push this platform for years to come. The inclusion of Intel Foundry Services and the absence of Samsung is also particularly interesting, with Intel’s continuing interest in the Arm ecosystem starting to raise some eyebrows within the industry. Any customers IFS can pick up from this ecosystem will be extremely valuable to the fledgling foundry business, and we hope Intel continues on this trajectory to offer a third competitive player in the leading-edge silicon foundry business.

We’d like to thank Arm once again for providing us with prior notice and details of this announcement. You can read more on their blog or hear from them at the OCP Global Summit. Their presentation, ‘Transforming the Data Center: Scaling Computing Infrastructure through Collaboration & Innovation’, is at 2:30pm PDT today (October 17th) for those attending in-person.

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