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Microsoft Licenses ARM CPU Technology

Microsoft may follow in Apple's footsteps by designing its own ARM-based chips. The company said Friday in an official announcement that it has signed a new agreement to license ARM's technology. Now there's speculation that a Windows Phone tablet could be on the way, or that the Redmond company may incorporate ARM into the next Xbox.

Microsoft did not provide additional details on the agreement, merely stating that it delivers "multiple operating systems on the company's architecture, most notably Windows Embedded and Windows Phone." The company added that direct access to the technology provides the ability to enhance its research and development around ARM-based products.

“Microsoft is an important member of the ARM ecosystem, and has been for many years,” said Mike Muller, CTO ARM. “With this architecture license, Microsoft will be at the forefront of applying and working with ARM technology in concert with a broad range of businesses addressing multiple application areas.”

Although around 200 licensees manufacture ARM chips without licensing the architecture itself, Microsoft now joins a short list of companies who actually dig into the micro-architecture including Infineon, Marvell and Qualcomm.

So why would Microsoft need ARM for the Xbox? This technology may actually be applied to the next generation console. As it stands now, the Xbox 360 relies on a central processor to do most of the work. This approach generates a concentration of heat that takes its toll on the heatsink--it expands and contracts until it eventually shorts out the system by touching one of the chip's contacts. The next console will need to address this issue, as a faster CPU will only make matters worse.

And what of the Windows Phone tablet? That's speculation too. Microsoft wants to port the entire Windows operating system to the ARM platform. Microsoft is also said to be discouraging tablet manufacturers from making Windows Phone-based devices, pushing them to use Windows 7 instead.

We're betting more will be revealed in the coming months.