Apple buys chip maker
PowerPC CPU designer acquired
Apple is to buy a microprocessor design company founded by one of the key minds behind the ARM chip design that went on to become Intel's erstwhile XScale family.
The firm in question is PA Semi, which currently develops low-power processors based on the PowerPC architecture. Apple's dealt with PA before, as a possible supplier of advanced PowerPC chips for the old Power Mac and PowerBook lines. Ultimately, Apple went to Intel instead.
PA was founded by Dan Dobberpuhl, who had been lead designer of DEC's Alpha and StrongARM chips. Intel bought Alpha and StrongARM as part of a legal settlement struck between the two chip makers in the late 1990s, and rebranded the newly acquired chips 'XScale'. Dobberpuhl is PA's President and CEO.
Intel has since sold off its XScale product line to Marvell, part of its plan to focus on its x86 architecture, even into the very low-power applications it once targeted XScale at. The first fruit of that programme is the 'Silverthorne' Atom CPU formally announced earlier this month.
Silverthorne is aimed at internet tablets, and Atoms capable of powering phones aren't due until 2009-2010 when Intel is scheduled to launch the next major incarnation of Atom, 'Moorestown'.
It's been suggested that Apple will migrate its ARM-base iPhone to Atom when Moorestown becomes available, but the move to buy PA seems to suggest otherwise. Certainly having established the iPhone - and, indeed, the iPod - as ARM-based devices, it would be tricky for Apple to shift the platform over to a whole new, incompatible architecture so soon.
That said, it managed it twice with the Mac, and there are distinct development advantages of going x86, not least the fact that code developed for one version of Atom will run on any other - and, indeed, on regular desktop and laptop x86 CPUs.
Different generations of ARM processor, and versions from different manufacturers, are often incompatible at the binary level, forcing developers essentially to create entirely separate versions of their apps for each CPU they use in their hardware.
Apple has confirmed the bid to buy the closely owned PA, but it refused to comment on its reasons and plans for the acquisition. It's easy to assume Apple wants the company for its expertise, but it might simply see strong commercial value in PA's current product line and believes it could profit by allowing PA to continue as it has been.
Certainly, it's hard to see Apple embracing PA's Power-based 64-bit PWRficient processors per se, but PA's experience of developing low-power chippery could allow Apple to have a stake in future ARM developments.
Dual CPU strategy not unusual for Unix based hardware vendors
"I hope they leave Intel and move back to PowerPC with their desktop and laptop machines."
Maybe they will offer PPC based Macs again at some point, it wouldn't be difficult to do now that they have all their software development tools dual-arch capable. But even if they do, what makes you think that would mean abandoning x86? It would be more likely then that they just use both. In fact it is rather common for Unix based hardware vendors to use two CPU architectures. IBM do it, SUN do it, HP do it. Apple could well do the same. One might even argue that Apple's development toolchain is better suited to a dual CPU architecture product line than that of any other vendor.
So, yes, it's not impossible that there will again be PPC Macs, but it is rather unlikely that there will be no x86 Macs.
PA Semi's IP == PA Semi's only product
you are talking nonsense. PA Semi only has one product and that is its IP, they are a fabless semiconductor company, no production facilities, only designs, nothing else.
If Apple is after PA Semi's IP as you said, then that automatically means they are after PA Semi's products, it is one and the same thing.
If Apple is only after the personnel, that would be rather silly, think about it, almost 300 million USD for 150 people, almost 2 million USD per employee, laughable.
re : more clues
Ian, Just to clarify, the Iphone has a Samsung ARM1176 based CPU running at 600mhz+ not (arm9 as you suggest).
I personally don't think they intend to move into the mobile space. I hope they leave Intel and move back to PowerPC with their desktop and laptop machines.
"Populous was Mac-only..."
Silly me, thinking that I was running on a PeeCee. Must've been hallucinating.
Tux, because I feel like it.
Only for the IP and engineering-talent.
Apple is in it for the IP and engineer talent grab. They are not interested in the products, nor the customers.
Don't rush into conclusions until you sort it out.