Apple Hires Away Top Samsung CPU Designer to Build Custom Apple Chips

Illustration for article titled Apple Hires Away Top Samsung CPU Designer to Build Custom Apple Chips

Apple just took a big step toward upping its chip-making game, and took a big swipe at Samsung in the process. According to the Wall Street Journal, Cupertino's hired away Jim Mergard, a well respected and vastly experienced engineer, from the Korean company.

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The move is a big deal for a few reasons. First, it signifies Apple's commitment to designing its own chips. Its A6 chip in the iPhone 5 was its first chip to use its own custom core. While Apple had been using chips customized for its products (the A4, A5, A5X, etc.), those were built on ARM's architecture—the Cortex-A8 and A9. In simple terms, Apple had been just tweaking things here and there with the blueprints, but with the A6, it built the chip design from the ground up using just ARM's reference designs, not its ready-made cores. That is a very big deal in the world of chip design, and it's what let Apple boost the A6's performance and battery life at once.

How does Mergard fit into that? His experience includes work on SoC chips, and an AMD chip that was meant to power low end PCs. That could mean a few things. The Journal cites Patrick Moorhead saying this could be Apple moving to build SoC chips into its Mac computers (the MacBook Air would make the most sense there, probably). Or, the hire could be to bolster improvements to the custom core Apple built for the A6, to keep it ahead of everyone else.

Everyone else including Samsung. While you chase down talent wherever you can find it, Apple also probably took at least a little special pleasure in hiring away a talented engineer from Samsung. Especially after Samsung declared that chip design is something it wants to focus on.

For now, you're not going to notice much from one chip engineer exchanging addresses. But down the road, next generation or the one after that, as Apple goes farther down the road of differentiating its chips from everyone else's, this could turn out to be a pretty big deal. [Wall Street Journal via Cult of Mac]

DISCUSSION

Long term, the interesting game brewing will be against Intel. While we scoff at that today, Intel has already exceeded the performance of current mobile chips, but since they are using an x86 instruction set that emulates ARM for compatibility, they will need to overpower them dramatically to get phone manufacturers to jump ship. Given their deep pockets and extraordinary technical abilities, I think it is just a matter of time before this war boils down to Apple versus "Intel Inside" nearly every other phone. We will see in a few years whether that turns out to be true.