Feeds

Only insanity would lead Apple to make a mobile chip play

Forget the iPhone. PA Semi's an embedded affair

High performance access to file storage

Comment So, here's the deal. If Steve Jobs can actually turn the acquisition of chip start-up PA Semi into a fruitful mobile endeavor, then he's an even more fantastic genius than the world has guessed to date. Because this deal seems to make almost no sense at first blush if you swallow the souped-up iPhone line.

The conventional wisdom cropping up as a result of the Forbes story which broke word of the acquisition is that Apple will use PA Semi's low-power processor designs in future iPhones and other mobile devices. Using that as the base logic, most reports covering this tie-up then chalked the deal up to a blow against Intel, which figured to get its Atom chips into the iPhone one day.

Today, the iPhone runs on an ARM processor design, which affords Apple certain luxuries. Numerous semiconductor companies create variations of the ARM chip, so Apple can bring these people in and pick the most suitable parts at the most suitable prices. In addition, many of these ARM designs demonstrate solid performance while consuming low amounts of power - the key ingredients for mobile chips.

But when we talk about low power in the mobile market, we're really discussing things in the milliwatt range. PA Semi's processors - based on a variant of the PowerPC design from IBM - do low power on quite a different scale. They eat up between 5 watts and 13 watts at 2.0GHz, which is marvelous for the company's target markets in the server and storage sector but less fantastic if you're trying to put a cell phone that won't fry your genitals into a trouser pocket.

Could PA Semi come up with an even lower-power design for the mobile market? You're damn right it could. The company has some of the top processor minds on the planet, including low-power and multi-core chip experts.

The rub, however, is that such a chip has never appeared on a PA Semi roadmap. So, we'd have to assume the company will take a couple of years at minimum to prepare such a part - on paper.

Even if PA Semi had a proper mobile part working in the labs, Apple would be gambling its entire iPhone business by picking the processor. First off, Apple would need to go through a software overhaul to move onto PowerPC. Secondly, it would need to bet that a chip start-up, even with Apple's cash piles behind it, could produce such a processor on time and continue producing subsequent chips on time. Over and over, we've seen chip start-ups die believing they could pull off such consistent magic, since creating and manufacturing these semiconductors proves very difficult.

High performance access to file storage

Next page: Bad Grief

More from The Register

next story
Feast your PUNY eyes on highest resolution phone display EVER
Too much pixel dust for your strained eyeballs to handle
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Report: Apple seeking to raise iPhone 6 price by a HUNDRED BUCKS
'Well, that 5c experiment didn't go so well – let's try the other direction'
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Nvidia gamers hit trifecta with driver, optimizer, and mobile upgrades
Li'l Shield moves up to Android 4.4.2 KitKat, GameStream comes to notebooks
AMD unveils Godzilla's graphics card – 'the world's fastest, period'
The Radeon R9 295X2: Water-cooled, 5,632 stream processors, 11.5TFLOPS
Sony battery recall as VAIO goes out with a bang, not a whimper
The perils of having Panasonic as a partner
NORKS' own smartmobe pegged as Chinese landfill Android
Fake kit in the hermit kingdom? That's just Kim Jong-un-believable!
Gimme a high S5: Samsung Galaxy S5 puts substance over style
Biometrics and kid-friendly mode in back-to-basics blockbuster
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.