Apple can now make its own processors

“If you listen to Intel, the last hold-outs against the x86 instruction set are about to fall — with super-powered Nehalem swarms mopping up the high end of massed Power PC supercomputers, and sneaky little Atoms nibbling away at the ARM embedded market,” Rupert Goodwins reports for ZDNet UK.

“Apple doesn’t listen to Intel much. While everyone’s been assuming that an Atom-powered iPhone was a done deal, and getting used to the idea that MacBooks are just Intel laptops with a different OS, Steve Jobs nipped out the back and bought PA Semi. Which is a small CPU company, led by the bloke who was lead designer on the Alpha and StrongARM chips, and which now makes low-power (like ARM) PowerPC-compatible chips that have comparable performance to Intel’s desktop chips,” Goodwins reports.

“Apple can now make its own processors,” Goodwins reports.

“What happens next? Apple now has a very good CPU design team, together with a license for a very capable architecture. The company thrives on differentiation, something that’s been getting harder and harder to do with Intel. I know everyone’s fixated on that darn iPhone, but for this year at least, PA Semi is a much better fit for other parts of the Apple world, and now Apple can break free of the Intel roadmap that its competitors are marching on,” Goodwins reports.

Full article here.

41 Comments

  1. This is a brilliant move. When Apple introduces it’s new Instant Messaging product and THEN upgrades other wireless devices (Touch, iPhone or others) there will be little that the competition can do.

  2. for a contrasting opinion – see RoughlyDrafted: http://www.roughlydrafted.com/2008/04/24/why-did-apple-buy-pa-semi/

    There is no way Apple is walking away from Intel as this article states. This direction has given Apple the ability to run windows and OSX on the same hardware – which is winning them sales. They didn’t move a platform to intel to then switch back.

    They will, however, try to differentiate their hardware – possibly to keep Apple hardware lucrative – and to shoot companies like PsyStar in the ass. Apple may decide to integrate a few custom chips onto the intel-designed motherboard – supplemental hardware level CPUs that augment the system in some cool-next-gen Apple way. PsyStar can’t run out to NewEgg to get these chips – disabling their systems, or making them unable to run the best features that you can only get from Apple hardware.

    Think about it –

  3. So, let’s say all this is true and Apple does put these processors in more than iPhones/iPod Touches and the like (read Macintosh computers); what the hell happens to the ability to run Windoze on Macs? I think losing that ability could once again hurt Apple, not to mention the fact it would be yet another platform change for developers to adjust to.

    “Well”, you say, “there could be more to this than meets the eye!” Oh? Really” “Yeah! What if these processors would still be able to run X86 OSes and programs, perhaps even independent of each other, through a new-fangled type of virtualization? And what if I told you Apple and PA Semi have been developing such technology through a secret project for the past year-or-s0. Would you be intrigued?”

    Why yes, yes I would!

    Well, all that is just speculation of course, but I think this would need to be a reality in order for this type of thing to get traction and not hurt Apple in the long-run. And, oh yeah, lest we forget about all those developers and creating programs for this “New Mac architecture”. It would have to be a no-brainer for them, no real change in how they create Apps using X-Code. Keep building with X86 and PPC (or whatever the new name for it would be) in mind.

    Who knows, all speculation. But if they could do this SEAMLESSLY, than I could see it being a HUGE win for Apple (thinking different and all…) but if there is even the littlest of hiccups, that could potentially spell a disastrous outcome.

    Eh, just my .02¢.

  4. At less than $300 million Apple was able to deliver pretty powerful, yet inexpensive, “Pay attention to me” message to Intel. I think Apple is enjoying its relationship with Intel, but wants them to develop unique, exclusive product to help differentiate Apple products. Jobs very publicly thanked Intel and gave them credit for working with Apple to develop the chip in the MB Air. No sooner was MB Air announced than Intel turned around and began hawking this new chip to all of Apple’s competitors. I’m wondering if this isn’t Steve Jobs way of telling Intel that Apple expects different treatment, and to not get too comfortable in thinking of Apple as a locked in customer.

  5. @don’t believe the hype…

    you really believe that apple just spent 200+ million so they could thwart a small, run out of their garage, maybe sell 100 computers a year startup?

    no. there’s something else going on here.

  6. Apple wants everyone to believe that they purchased PA for their design expertise. While that may be true, I suspect that Apple is looking for the expertise to design some very specific chip sets. I doubt that Apple would try to replace the main CPU on any of its existing products, and it is very unlikely that Apple would buy PA to replace any other chip that is currently in use in their products. It would be logical to assume that the design expertise is for a future product, one that the chip industry doesn’t have an ASIC for.

    My guess is that Apple may need to design some custom graphic chips for ‘potential’ products like the ‘3D Display‘ or for the ‘Asteroid’ product (which I still believe is part of the Apple TV product line).

    Just my 2¢ worth.

  7. @Sum Jung Gai

    (hands him a cup of coffee) – wake up and smell the humor bro.

    regarding the Roughly Drafted article listed above. Just read it and it makes a ton of sense. Looks to me like Dan has a great understanding of what’s going on inside SJ’s head.

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