Apple hires Samsung, AMD chip veteran

Apple hires Samsung, AMD chip veteran

Summary: Apple's hiring of 16-year AMD chip veteran could allow the Cupertino tech giant to shift A-series processor production away from Samsung. But the move could also have implications for Intel, which supplies CPUs for Macs.

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Apple's latest hiring brings almost two decades of processor design expertise to the iPhone and iPad maker.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Cupertino technology giant has hired Jim Mergard, a 16 -year veteran at AMD who rose to the heights of vice-president and chief engineer. While at AMD, Mergard was responsible for the development of the low-power "Brazos" mobile APU.

Last June, Mergard left AMD to join Samsung as chief system architect, where he stayed for 16 months. Now, Mergard is off to Apple.

While there's no love lost between Apple and Samsung in the courtroom, Apple is currently reliant on Samsung to manufacture the A5 and A6 processors used in the manufacture of millions of iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices. But while the actual silicon manufacturing process is carried by Samsung, the design work is carried out by Apple.

Back in 2008, Apple acquired processor design company PA Semi, a move that allowed the company to bring its chip design work in-house. This allowed the company to design the A-series processors used in iPhones and iPads.

Apple's latest A6 processor is the company's most sophisticated design yet. A teardown of the chip carried out for iFixit by Chipworks revealed a complex design, suggesting that the ARM core blocks had been laid out manually as opposed to using a computer in order to maximize performance.

According to iFixit's chief information architect Miroslav Djuric, the ARM cores inside the A6 "might be the only manual layout in a chip to hit the market in several years".

As more chip expertise enters Apple, the company's reliance on Samsung diminishes, and this could allow the company to shift production to another firm, such as GlobalFoundries or TSMC.

Let's not forget that Apple not only requires processors of iPhones and iPads but also its range of Mac computers. Patrick Moorhead, a former AMD executive who now leads the research firm Moor Insights & Strategy, said Mergard could help Apple break free of Intel.

"[Mergard] would be very capable of pulling together internal and external resources to do a PC processor for Apple," said Moorhead.

Could Intel silicon found inside Macs soon be replaced with Apple designed processors?

Image source: iFixit/Chipworks.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Processors

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14 comments
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  • Suicide and law suits will follow

    "Could Intel silicon found inside Macs soon be replaced with Apple designed processors?": possibly. However, what will be certain is the suicide rate will rise among GlobalFoundries or TSMC employees as soon as production starts. As these two companies also makes chips, they will find themeselves competing with Apple. With Apple's reputation to sue its former supplier Samsung, I strongly suggest GF / TSMC to invest in the legal department.
    RelaxWalk
    • That was a horribly, horribly uninformed comment.

      GF and TSMC are foundries.

      Go research, and see if Apple has a foundry or not.

      Samsung has its own foundry.

      You're welcome.
      Gigahurt
    • Your comment makes very little sense

      GlobalFoundry and TSMC are as GF's name suggests, foundries. Either company would, in my not so humble opinion, be more than happy to manufacture Apple designed silicon. I seem to remember seeing one story that Apple is moving their 20nm production to TSMC from Samsung.

      Perhaps you could enlighten us as to just what chips are being designed, manufactured and sold by either that would be in competition with Apple designed chips?

      As for suicide rate, the sad part of the stories about suicides at Foxconn's factories is that the suicide rate there was lower than the industry average in Chinese electronics factories. You might want to do some digging and compare the reports of the suicide rates at Samsung owned factories for a rather nasty surprise. At least Apple appears to be making an attempt to hold it's suppliers to higher standards.
      DNSB
  • What makes iFixit believe that paths where laid out by hand?

    "suggesting that the ARM core blocks had been laid out manually as opposed to using a computer in order to maximize performance"

    What do they base that statement on?
    William Farrel
  • Intel makes excellent CPUs for Macs.

    Would be nuts for Apple to compete in x86 market.
    Also nuts to switch to an incompatible CPU for no good reason.
    They only switched in the past when they had to.
    Would be very nice for Intel to fab Apple's Ax chips.
    Perhaps OK to put both x86 and Ax in Macs.
    ttrtilley1
    • Arm

      The performance of Arms chips is getting close to Laptop/desktop class. With the coming 64 bit Arm processors it will be very interesting times. If Apple makes the switch from X64 to Arm, they probably provide some virtual machine part to run old Intel applications. Apps in the Apple Macstore can probably be recompiled for Arm too. Price will be very important. If Apple can get 32-Arm cores for the price of 2 Intel cores, the switch will be very tempting.
      Oden79
    • There is a good reason.

      To differentiate the chips that run inside their laptops from the gazillion other laptops that run on Intel chips. "Think different" as in "use something other than an x86 chip"
      Gigahurt
      • History?

        They tried that. The Apple II line used the MOS Technology 6502 CPU. The Apple Macintosh used the Motorola 68000 series CPU and later the AIM PowerPC CPU (AIM = Apple - IBM - Motorola). They dumped these when Jobs came back to Apple; he brought the NeXT technology built on Intel's x86 architecture.
        benched42
    • Leaving Intel

      It may turn out that AMD chips are better suited to what Apple does.

      Intel CPUs are generally optimised to run Windows. Few single-thread applications, at maximum single-core performance. This is how Intel CPUs are optimised and where their "performance" comes from. Intel has always been known for "shortcuts".

      On the other hand, for high-computational-local applications, AMD CPUs have always been better. More performance at lower cost and possibly lower power consumption. But in order to make use of such power, one needs better operating system, such as UNIX. The OS that is powering Apple's OS X.

      Also, AMD has higher performing GPUs and their APU architecture is apparently better than Intel's.
      Apple controls their entire platform and could make very optimised used of resources available.

      There is no point to switch to ARM, the AMD64 architecture (that Intel licensed) is more than adequate for the task. Who knows, we might even see AMD64 based iPhones and iPads.
      danbi
  • No in 1 million-years

    PC (aka. x86 CPUs) are much more complex designs than ARM-based CPUs.
    In order to get Intel-like performace, Apple would need a incredible amount of man-hours and maybe billions of dollars. That, of course doesn't make sence.
    I doubt Apple will put ARM-based CPUs on Macs because the performance gap is abysmal compared to modern x86 processors.

    Think about this. AMD wich has a lot of x86 design expertise can't match Intel's CPU performance level. Of course Apple never will....
    jsapaj
    • Here's what you're missing

      You're missing the fact that ARM chips are much lower power and having an Apple laptop that runs an ARM chip would enable such a laptop to have much better battery life. Imagine what Apple's famous marketing could do with a laptop that has far far better battery life than any laptop using an x86 chip! It would be a public relations coup. Everyone would want an Apple laptop and few people are technically savvy enough to know and care about power. Most people just use their computers to surf the web, watch videos and write some stuff in a word processing program. ARM is perfectly up to that task.

      If you still think the idea of Apple moving to ARM chips for at least their laptop line then go to www.semiaccurate.com and check out what Charlie Demerjian has been saying about it. He has been talking about how Apple has been stripping their desktop OS down and it will soon be stripped down enough to run on an ARM chip. He also gives other reasons to believe they are going to switch sometime in the next few years.
      josh92
      • Yep, they'd get SO MUCH BATTERY POWER

        at the expense of no longer being able to run Windows or any games or just about any other program that currently runs on OS X.

        I'm sure not being able to run almost any program is somehow also a plus in your book?
        Michael Alan Goff
        • I am guessing that you probably realize this

          but technology is moving forward. Nobody is talking about Apple dropping Intel tomorrow for the current A series, they are talking about what is possible with advancements in the software as well as the ARM architecture. Though I am sure you post has more to do with knocking Apple than looking forward.
          non-biased
        • Windows?

          Who needs Windows? Who runs Windows when you have OSX?
          nowend