Apple hires former AMD, Samsung chip dev Jim Mergard

October 12, 2012 | 11:13

Tags: #apu #arm-architecture #brazos #mac #os-x #soc #system-on-chip #x86

Companies: #amd #apple #samsung

Apple could be looking to move into the ARM-based laptop market with a new version of its A-series system-on-chip processor, hiring former AMD and Samsung engineer Jim Mergard to help its custom processor development.

Back when Apple launched the iPhone 4, it moved away from off-the-shelf ARM-based processors in favour of its A-series chips. Based on existing ARM IP but significantly customised, the current-generation A6 processor found in the iPhone 5 is one of the fastest on the market.

So far, however, Apple has left the ARM chips for its tablet and smartphone products while leaving its desktop and laptop lines running on Intel chips with either Nvidia or AMD graphics. Rumours have been circulating for well over a decade that Apple was thinking of a move to ARM-based chips in these markets, too, but such a move has yet to materialise.

To add further grist to the mill, AMD has stolen Jim Mergard away from Samsung where he worked on the company's own ARM-based system-on-chip designs. Prior to Samsung, Mergard spent 16 years at AMD playing a significant role in the development of the E-series accelerated processing units (APUs) at the company.

In other words: Mergard has some serious experience in the PC and laptop market, designing low-power and system-on-chip designs based on both x86 and ARM architectures.

On the surface, it's easy to dismiss Mergard's move to Apple as simply being the Cupertino company looking to improve its smartphone and tablet system on chip designs still further. That ignores Mergard's role in the E-series processor, however - a chip which has only seen use in low-power PCs and cut-price laptops.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, fellow AMD alumnus turned analyst Patrick Moorhead claimed that Mergard 'would be very capable of pulling together internal and external resources to do a PC processor for Apple' if his paymasters so desired.

With Russian company Elbrus Technologies promising an x86-to-ARM compatibility layer - extremely similar to the Rosetta software Apple used to ease its transition from the PowerPC architecture to x86 - the chances of Apple launching at least some mainstream products on ARM have never been likelier - but we're not holding our breath for a shift to ARM across the range.
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