Who hasn’t dreamed of pulling together some gadget in their garage and turning it into a big business? Of course, most gadgets today have a CPU in them, and Arm CPUs power just about any kind of embedded device you can think of. If you just want to use a chip, that’s easy. You buy them from a licensee and you use their tools for development. But if you want to integrate ARM’s devices into your own chips, that’s a different story. You have to pay fees, buy tools, and pay licenses on each chip you produce. Until now. Arm’s flexible access for startups program will let you apply to get all of that free.
To qualify, you have to be an “early stage silicon startup with limited funding.” Normally, flexible access costs about $75,000 to $200,000 a year and that doesn’t cover your license fees and royalties. The plan offered to qualifying startups is the $75,000 package, but that still includes access to nearly all Arm products, technical support, a few introductory training credits, and development tools. After your first tape-out, though, it looks as though you’ll have to pony up.
Granted, we aren’t sure how many people are going to start a fabless silicon startup, but if you are, this is pretty big news. Not only is it a big cost savings, but you can do things that would be hard to do without this level of access. For example, it would be easy to try one CPU core and then decide later go to a larger or smaller CPU since you have access to nearly all the product lines.
We can’t help but think, though, that this is probably in response from pressure from the open source CPU movement. Of course, it makes sense for Arm, too. They want to make their money from royalties on things that sell hundreds of thousands, not from your dorm room prototype.