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Apple purchases PA Semi for $278M

Intel has high hopes for its Atom processor platform. Intel believes that the processors will allow it to tap into nearly $40B in new markets around the globe.

The current Z5xx family of Silverthorne-based Atom processors is indeed impressive given their small 13mm x 14mm package size. The processors range in speed from 800MHz to 1.86GHz and feature a thermal design power (TDP) ranging from 0.65 W to 2.4 W.

Intel has actively courted Apple with its new line of Atom processors -- and its future variants -- for use in a number of Apple products, namely the iPhone. While Intel's Atom looks impressive on paper, it appears that the performance-per-watt is still not quite to Apple's liking, hence the Cupertino-based company's decision to purchase fabless chip company PA Semi.

Apple yesterday confirmed that it purchased microprocessor design company PA Semi -- a person familiar with the deal said the transaction was worth $278M. "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not comment on our purposes and plans," said Apple spokesman Steve Dowling to Forbes.

PA Semi was founded in 2003 by Dan Dobberpuhl who was the lead designer for DEC's Alpha and StrongARM processors. PA Semi is now best-known for its PWRficient 64-bit multi-core processors which are based on Power Architecture.

Apple's move to have greater control over major components included in its mobile products could help the company stay out ahead of the competition with regards to innovation. However, new Apple products using PA Semi's processors could still be more than a year away so we still have a while to see how Apple will take advantage of its recent purchase.



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typos
By highlandsun on 4/23/2008 6:32:52 AM , Rating: 3
The subtitle says "Intel buys" but obviously the story is that Apple bought, bypassing Intel.

This seems like a pretty tardy move for Apple, considering that they are just settling into their x86 product line and have abandoned the Power architecture. The PWRficient chips are nice, for laptops maybe, but have nothing to offer the smartphone market yet.




RE: typos
By Brandon Hill (blog) on 4/23/2008 6:37:50 AM , Rating: 3
Who knows what PA Semi has working up in the back room... another ARM-based processor perhaps that Apple wants to get its hands on?

And Apple has long been rumored to be working on a Tablet... PA Semi could help here as well.


RE: typos
By ksherman on 4/23/2008 8:10:15 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, it may seem like a strange move, but I think that Apple (usually) has a plan. Apple took up Intel back when AMD had some significant performance advantages, I remember many of us wondering why. Well, several years down the road, clearly Apple chose for the future. I would say now that we should be excited to see what comes from this company in the next few years! Though it could always be a flop. I do, however, find it odd that Apple isn't seeking to more unify its architecture by adding Power back into the lineup.


RE: typos
By andreschmidt on 4/23/08, Rating: 0
RE: typos
By SiN on 4/23/2008 2:46:12 PM , Rating: 2
So. They could have used VIA chips without having to buy PA Semi, I mean the VIA isaiah offering bests Intels Atom.

Only place intel pulls ahead is TDP.

Intel Atom 2w TDP, 45nm. VIA Isaiah 20w TDP, 65nm.

Rumours are VIA are to shrink their die. IBM have the hi K-Gate comming to production, i dont know if they could work together. I don't know their relationship.

Who knows what apple has up its sleep.

P.S. Market Caps, Revenues, Net annual income mean nothing when shopping for a partner in crime (apple rob people - apple bashing is the new MS bashing). Intel had a better product. Where does their finances come into play? AMD didn't have a competing product for Core Duo/Core 2 Duo, they still dont. The only place AMD is competing at the moment is in the budget orientated segment of the market, their TDP cannot match intel yet, and they don't sell a product that matches intels Core 2 Duo offerings yet.


RE: typos
By murphyslabrat on 4/23/2008 3:00:48 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Anyone with access to a half-decent roadmap could see that Intel were the ones to bet on.


I don't know, the "half-decent" roadmaps from AMD are saying that Barcelona is a clearly bettter choice.


RE: typos
By andreschmidt on 4/24/2008 5:01:36 PM , Rating: 2
Regardless, looking back at it now it was still the right choice. You can clearly see today that Barcelona is definitely not the better choice.

AMD still have trouble supplying the market with any amount of processors and are restricted by their capacity (eg. foundries).

I still stand by my initial post.


RE: typos
By ET on 4/23/2008 9:09:14 AM , Rating: 4
I can't see a reason for Apple to settle. Apple has moved CPU architectures more than once, and it hasn't hurt it. So while such changes are risky, they seem to work for Apple. It's probably an even easier move to move back to the previous architecture, rather than a new one.

Of course it's possible that Apple wants to have a semiconductor company for another purpose, but it does make some sense for it to move back to PowerPC. Apple likes being closed and not compatible.


RE: typos
By winterspan on 4/23/08, Rating: 0
RE: typos
By winterspan on 4/23/2008 11:07:21 PM , Rating: 2
Your article is just plain wrong. You directly imply that
this acquisition means Apple is forgoing Intel's Atom processor in a future iPhone in favor of a dual-core, 2Ghz POWER-based chip that uses 10-watts?? That's complete nonsense. I would imagine they are simply buying PA Semi for the engineering team and R&D IP.


RE: typos
By Samus on 4/24/2008 4:00:37 AM , Rating: 2
I'm sensing that Apple is satisfied with their POWER architecture and will run the iPhone on that. I doubt it'll be ARM-based. They want to be proprietary, this is the ideal way to pull it off. Good luck finding a simulator for the instruction set. This will be a thorn 3rd party iPhone hacks.


RE: typos
By Captain828 on 4/23/2008 7:43:54 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
PA Semi was founding in 2003 by Dan Dobberpuhl


I believe it should be founded


RE: typos
By TETRONG on 4/23/08, Rating: 0
More on this today
By crystal clear on 4/23/2008 1:08:32 PM , Rating: 2
You could hear more on this today-

Apple plans to conduct a conference call to discuss financial results of its second fiscal quarter on Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 2:00 p.m. PDT.




RE: More on this today
By crystal clear on 4/23/2008 2:29:32 PM , Rating: 2
I fail to understand why this purchase is linked to the iPhone & or Intel or the Atom processors.

If you do some reading on their site-P A Semi.....

The family of PWRficient™ 64-bit multicore processors based on the Power Architecture targets high-performance embedded-computing markets, such as networking, telecomm (e.g., cellular infrastructure), storage, and military/aerospace.

Power-architecture microprocessors form a large, growing, and diverse market, unique in the fact that the architecture is deployed across multiple segments, including supercomputing, game consoles, servers, and high-volume embedded controllers.



http://www.pasemi.com/about/company.html

I think those linking this purchase to iPhone / ATOM processors are completely wrong & reaching incorrect conclusions.

Apple has something else in my mind when purchasing P A Semi namely the server market.

They want to grab a decent share of this lucrative market.

Mac OS X Server


RE: More on this today
By Oregonian2 on 4/23/2008 3:19:30 PM , Rating: 4
"Could be" in terms of a TV settop box "server". Having a powerful embedded processor means that it's more than an ARM processor, but tiny and low powered compared to PC sorts of processors. PA's parts I understand are in the 15W sort of range -- high powered for embedded, but puny compared to PC's. I design embedded processor products.

I suspect they're after specialized versions with custom instruction sets and/or co-processing going on or just a strong performance/power point at a different performance point than something like Atom. One thing for sure, it will NOT be anything that directly competes with an Intel processor because there wouldn't be much point in that, especially with a fabless maker (where they still have to pay the silicon manufacturer's profit margin, and where Intel's fab is second to none). Gives them more control of the product -- but that only makes sense if they want something that Intel does not provide.


RE: More on this today
By crystal clear on 4/23/2008 3:59:26 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed an interesting response.

Points worth noting-

" it will NOT be anything that directly competes with an Intel processor".

"they want something that Intel does not provide".


RE: More on this today
By crystal clear on 4/24/2008 10:46:08 AM , Rating: 2
Apple's earnings for the quarter ending in March jumped 37%, thanks to a 51% surge in unit sales of desktop and laptop computers.

So we can safely assume the real earnings (bread & butter) come from MACS & to a lesser extent from iPhones & iPods etc..



I don't know
By mendocinosummit on 4/23/2008 9:05:52 AM , Rating: 2
I usually support this kind of move by a company, but I really feel that Apple might be screwing themselves here.




RE: I don't know
By CTKP on 4/23/2008 10:16:49 AM , Rating: 3
What do you mean? They were cheap.

Also, Intel certainly wont care as long as they're still supplying apple with their desktop/laptop processors


RE: I don't know
By heulenwolf on 4/23/2008 10:36:53 AM , Rating: 1
I agree, CTKP. Its possible that Apple bought PA Semi as a way of bringing some knowledge in-house to make better design decisions. I think its telling that they bought a "fabless" company. They're probably not going to compete with Intel on desktops and laptops, no matter who they buy. They can now move into products that Intel doesn't supply (e.g. iPhone chips), claim they can do so as a bargaining technique, or better evaluate and critique Intel's offerings. The MB Air demonstrates that they have solicited custom chip designs from Intel in the past. Perhaps they want to be more directly involved in future custom designs.


RE: I don't know
By Leomania on 4/23/2008 2:25:25 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I think its telling that they bought a "fabless" company.

Not really. Companies such as Western Digital (who used to be a chip company before it became a disk drive manufacturer) designed and manufactured their chips in their own fabs, but almost all have sold or closed them long ago. That's why even big chip companies like Broadcom and Nvidia don't have their own fabs. Many ASIC companies that in the past had their own fabs (LSI Logic, Agere Systems, Avago) have thrown in the towel due to the capital costs involved in bringing up new next-generation fabs (billions of dollars). Almost all of them now use TSMC, and possibly some other fabs such as Chartered and UMC.

So suffice it to say that no company as small as PA Semi has any possible way to operate their own fab; that's only for the biggest companies now.

It's probably time to retire the word "fabless" as it applies to well over 99% of semiconductor companies. But perhaps the reason it hasn't fallen out of use is that phrases like "fabbed" or "with fab" just don't roll off the tongue as well. ;-)


Set-top box plans?
By ltcommanderdata on 4/23/2008 9:20:30 AM , Rating: 2
Well, PWRficient is claimed to be 5-13W for a 2GHz dual core, which is quite above 2.4W for Atom which is already too high for mobile phones, so a direct replacement for Atom in the iPhone is unlikely.

I think the most likely target for such a chip is it's intended embedded application so perhaps in an expanded AppleTV and Time Capsule. I'd definitely like to see Time Capsule extended as a try media server and additional capabilities added to the AppleTV like PVR, document presentation abilities, and the internet. Heck, with the AppleTV already running a version of Mac OS X, they could just put in a half decent graphics card and provide wireless controllers so it can play Mac OS X games too, to satisfy those Apple game console rumours from not long ago.




RE: Set-top box plans?
By Brandon Hill (blog) on 4/23/2008 9:47:22 AM , Rating: 2
While the TDP is high, remember that Apple doesn't need a 2GHz dual core processor for the iPhone... or any near-term iPhone successor. Those figures are also for a 65nm process.

The iPhone would be using a very stripped down core.


RE: Set-top box plans?
By psychobriggsy on 4/23/2008 12:16:26 PM , Rating: 2
"Well, PWRficient is claimed to be 5-13W for a 2GHz dual core, which is quite above 2.4W for Atom "

It's also probably at least twice as fast per clock, and there are two full cores, instead of one core that does SMT on the non-lowest-end Atoms.

With one core, running at 1GHz, it could be quite power efficient, especially as it incorporates a lot of chipset functions. It still seems rather server-oriented than mobile consumer though.

I don't think this is aimed at iPhones/iPods. It's either an investment by Apple, or a long term plan rather than a short term plan.


4th paragraph...
By iFX on 4/23/2008 8:05:45 AM , Rating: 2
Nothing relating to the article topic until the 4th paragraph?




RE: 4th paragraph...
By Brandon Hill (blog) on 4/23/2008 8:19:37 AM , Rating: 1
Everything is relevant, and it's actually the third paragraph ;). Intel has been pushing to get Apple to use its Atom processors for its mobile products (as it has been with various other mobile manufacturers).

You can't have a discussion about the PA Semi purchase without first talking about what Apple is tossing aside to make the move -- i.e. Atom.

The title of the article even lays out this progression.


RE: 4th paragraph...
By psychobriggsy on 4/23/2008 8:25:42 AM , Rating: 2
You normally have the article news at the top, and then a discussion of the effect on other mooted possibilities. I found that the long discussion on Atom (that was way too detailed) was really oddly placed, when it should have been after the main body of news.


It's all part of the plan
By phaxmohdem on 4/23/2008 1:28:16 PM , Rating: 2
First a small semi company with some interesting IP, and a rockstar designer or two...

Next move acquire via or AMD to snag that illusive x86 license and take control over it's entire product lines processing needs.

Next move purchase a small island covered coast to coast with coffee shops near Australia, where all the mac zealots can be relocated and live happily in eternal bliss with their black framed intellectual glasses, making crappy youtube movies and starting internet flame wars.

Natrually Steve Jobs would reign supreme, and hand down a decree that anyone not wearing a turtleneck be subject to death by hanging.




RE: It's all part of the plan
By Runiteshark on 4/23/2008 2:58:37 PM , Rating: 2
That was quite an epic read.


RE: It's all part of the plan
By phaxmohdem on 4/24/2008 11:11:34 AM , Rating: 1
I think I would like to retract my previous post. After thinking long and hard about the situation at hand, I have concluded that Apple is simply still sore about the whole PowerPC situation, and not being able to shove a G5 into a portable without it melting down. Therefore, they have purchased this company as a whipping boy to vent their pent up frustrations.

My Apple insider tells me that in three days time there will be a huge jam band festival just outside of Cupertino, and immediately following that there will be a public flogging of all employees of the newly acquired company. The tentative plan is to tie them all to posts, and force them to listen to an iTunes playlist of shitty indy bands that no one has ever heard of until they one by one recant their faith in the Power architecture.

After the new employees have been properly converted to the ways of their new master, my insider tells me that Apple will griding up all plans and R&D regarding the Power chips into a fine powder which will then be mixed with Caffeine and trace amounts of acid in an energy drink, to be packaged in brushed aluminum bottles and sold at Apple Stores across the nation.


Multi-core and Out of Order Execution
By Etsp on 4/23/2008 1:01:54 PM , Rating: 2
My understanding of atom is that it is an in-order execution proc, which can heavily affect performance in single processor systems. I'm curious to know, if the problem could be largely mitigated with the addition of more cores... which then sends my thought process on a tangent screaming "The Cell BE is like that..."

Back on topic, what I mean is, is there a significant improvement of the individual processor when other processors are there to tackle the stuff in queue?




By boogle on 4/23/2008 4:41:39 PM , Rating: 2
In-Order just means every instruction is processed one instruction after the other, as specified by the programmer / compiler. Adding more cores won't help because they have to be explicitly called, its not automatic.

In-order simplifies a CPU (lower power consumption, less transistors) at the expense of requiring more effort on the part of the programmer / compiler. Its all a trade-off.


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