Arm eyes partnership with Samsung, potentially on near-memory computing

SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son. 1 credit

SoftBank Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son raised the possibility of a strategic alliance between Arm and Samsung on Sept. 22, according to multiple media outlets, as falling tech stocks around the world complicate SoftBank’s ongoing plan to publicly list Arm in 2023. According to Nikkei AsiaSon announced plans to travel to South Korea for talks with Samsung regarding the strategic alliance, in a bid to boost the chip design company’s valuation.

SoftBank acquired Arm for US$32 billion in 2016, and after Nvidia’s failed US$40 billion acquisition attempt in February 2022, Arm’s IPO became a priority. Nikkei Asia reported that Son thought about what to do with Arm “almost every day”. In the first quarter of fiscal 2022, SoftBank posted a record loss of 3.16 trillion yen ($23.5 billion). At the same time, however, Arm posted record revenue of US$719 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2022, with its quarterly royalty revenue surpassing US$400 million for the first time. Previous reports indicated that SoftBank aimed to float Arm before March 2023, pursuing a valuation of at least $60 billion.

A Samsung executive said FinancialTimes that “a strategic alliance is a vague and broad term” and that the South Korean company should “consider it generally” if SoftBank offered to sell Arm to Samsung. South Korean memory giant SK Hynix also considered Arm as a potential acquisition target at a shareholder meeting in March, as reported. Nikkei Asia. On several occasions over the past two years, industry leaders like Samsung, SK Hynix, Intel and Qualcomm have reportedly shown interest in acquiring Arm through a consortium, but there have been no concrete plans in sight, especially after Arm filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm in September 2022.

Arm’s IPO was further complicated as London launched a new attempt to persuade SoftBank to pursue a dual listing. Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been in talks with SoftBank to try to list Arm on the London Stock Exchange, but talks broke down after Johnson left government. Elizabeth Truss, the new British prime minister, recently reignited talks with SoftBank. However, Arm’s proposed NASDAQ listing isn’t just complicated by stock market turmoil. Staff involved in the talks revealed that the US government’s recent decision to block Nvidia from shipping advanced chips to China led SoftBank to consider US regulatory risks, according to FinancialTimes.

Arm’s potential partnership with Samsung isn’t just financially motivated, however. “The potential collaboration with Samsung includes quasi-memory computing for AI, and Samsung could provide memory that matches the memory architecture required,” a senior Arm executive told DIGITIMES Asia. Indeed, the growing need to manage AI workloads shows the limits of classic Von Neumann architecture – in which data and instructions are both stored in the same memory accessible via a single bus by the CPU – hitherto underpinning general purpose computing. Despite its programmable nature suitable for machine learning, the energy expended to move data between processors and memories has become a drag on efficiency. To address memory bottlenecks, near-memory and in-memory computing architectures have become two alternatives that are gaining traction, as they shorten the distance between memory and logical drives.

In fact, when it comes to in-memory computing, Samsung claimed in January 2022 that it had successfully developed the world’s first in-memory computing based on a magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM) array chip that would see storage and data calculation performed in the same location. According to the company, the chip achieved 98% accuracy in classifying handwritten digits and 93% accuracy in detecting faces from scenes. The research was conducted by Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology in collaboration with Samsung Electronics Foundry Business and Semiconductor R&D Center.

Sherry J. Basler