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Apple Buys Itself a Little Chip Company Known for Super Efficient Processors

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Click to viewApple's bought itself a chip company, P.A. Semi, that could make chips for future iPods and iPhones. The company was founded by Dan Dobberpuhl, lead designer of Alpha chips, who last year announced a 64-bit dual core processor that is said to be about 300% more efficient than the nearest competition, using only 5 to 13 watts at 2GHz.

Products using the chips won't arrive for a year, at least, but we can assume that Apple wouldn't spend $278 million without some plans to use 'em soon as it made sense, and I'm sure Intel and ARM aren't stoked. The negotiations, which finished recently, took place in The Steve's home. Owning its own chip design is an interesting move. While the iPhone's had a lot of off the shelf componentry, it makes sense that working on its own internal hardware could yield better devices. Or a PowerPC repeat..which is the architecture I believe that the above processor is built on.


More research on that chip shows how it achieves such power efficiency. From Ars: "For instance, the chip sports over 25,000 clock gates so that clock pulses to different regions of the processor can be shut off dynamically to save power...All of the PA6T's major on-die components have their own separate clock and voltage domains, so that the L1, L2, DRAM controller, I/O subsystem, and each of the two cores can all be placed in different low-power states independently of one another."

Of course, the chips in portable such as an iPhone and iPod (as Forbes speculates) wouldn't be running so fast as the chip above. While it's unlikely they'd use that dual core 64 chip in Macs, given the Intel switch was so recent, it's my guess that P.A. Semi has a unannounced mobile chip that Jobs lusts after. Stands to reason, although Owen at Valleywag believes that the lack of economic scale for Semi makes it more likely that the buy is for IP to be implemented by others, as a bargaining chip. Regardless of tactics, the unnamed chip would have to be very efficient to best other offerings.


Intel's mobile platform, Atom, by comparison, can do 0.8 watts of usage at 800MHz, and VIA has a 0.1 watt solution that runs at 500MHz. ARM, designer of the current iPhone chip, is boasting that they can do a 0.25 watt A9 chip with multicores at 1GHz.

Historically, P.A. Semi was trying to be the chip provider for Macs around the time they chose to go for Intel, and it is reported that Dobberpuhl was furious when they went x86, thinking the Intel talks were just a bargaining chip. Some think that P.A. Semi lost its chance to be a brand name like AMD or Intel, but clearly, being under the brand name of Apple isn't half bad. [Forbes, Ars, Reg, VW]