Sonics and ARM just made an agreement to use Sonics interconnects patents and some power management tech in ARM products. This agreement has some interesting implications for both current and future cores, not to mention the SoCs that use them.
You probably don’t know much about Sonics, they are an IP licensing house that has tech in the areas of universal fabrics, QoS, and power management. The nutshell version of their fabric is that it is universal in the sense that it can translate speeds, widths, ordering, and other details on the fly between connected blocks. If you have a wide and slow DSP block that you want to connect to a fast and narrow CPU core, that is kind of what they do. Add in some QoS levels and you have a party. Power management comes in to play both on the fabric side and in other unspecified areas.
With ARM licensing this tech, they can make a very credible claim to being universal in what they support for IP blocks. Like the AMD HSA agreement two years ago, this one is a step toward universal compatibility. Yes, it sounds easier than it is to implement, but in theory ARM now can interchange AMD’s x86 core and theirs with a fair bit of ease. With Sonics now the rest of the world can play too. If you stop and think about the possibilities here, there is enough in this announcement to make your head spin.
This agreement covers ARM cores and things in it, blocks that an ARM licensee adds to an SoC may or may not be covered by this agreement. If ARM uses the Sonics fabric as an interconnect, you would presume things attaching to that are in the clear but check with your friendly neighborhood IP lawyer before you take our guesses as a firm license. The grey areas seem to be things like internal functions of the 3rd party blocks, things that don’t connect to ARM cores, and so on.
In the end, this puts ARM in a very interesting place. If Sonics is to be taken at face value on their functionality, then you can slap just about any IP block you have on an ARM core now with a fair bit of ease. Endian-ness, width, speeds, and other annoying engineering incompatibilities should be a lot less tricky now. Given the products that use Sonics tech now, it looks like it is capable of facilitating some very complex SoCs. Now that it is effectively standard on ARM cores, it could open some very interesting doors for 3rd party IP integration. Watch this one, closely.S|A