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Apple bags chippery guru from rival Samsung

Move unlikely to deepen Korean love for Cupertino

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There's already no love lost between Seoul and Cupertino, but that rivalry has surely racheted up another notch now that Apple has reportedly bagged one of the Korean electronics giant's top chip designers.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Apple has hired Jim Mergard, who joined Samsung last June as one of a flurry of hires that The Reg suggested was part of that company's possible move into ARM-based server chips.

Mergard's 16-month stay at Samsung as chief system architect was a brief one, especially when compared to his previous position of 16 years at AMD working on mainstream processor architectures.

To say that the relationship between Samsung and Apple is convoluted is a gross understatement. Although they may be spirited rivals in the smartphone market, their competition in the patent wars is nigh-on vicious, with both companies lashing lawsuits, injunctions, and appeals at one another – including the particularly incendiary suit in which Apple was awarded over $1bn by a California jury, which Samsung is seeking to have overturned, citing jury misconduct.

But that rivalry and those legal battles aren't what make the Korean and Cupertinian relationship most interesting; that would be the fact that Apple currently relies upon Samsung to manufacture the A5 and A6 chips in its various iDevices.

One can only assume that relationship is one that Apple would dearly like to sever. The idea of writing hefty checks to fill the coffers of its otherwise adversary must rankle Cook & Co.

For some time, now – at least since Apple's April 2008 acquisition of PA Semi, an ARM-centric design house – Apple has been building up its chip-designer team. The addition of Mergard to that team strengthens Apple's hand should they choose to move their manufacturing to, say, GlobalFoundries or TSMC, but it also has the dual affect of dealing a blow to Samsung.

After all, top chip designers are not something you can merely order up from Manpower or Kelly Services – or even by posting engineering openings on Jobs at Apple.

Luring and retaining top-flight engineering talent takes finesse – and, most assuredly, mountains of moola. We know Apple has plenty of the latter, and with the landing of Mergard it's arguable that they're not too shabby with the former, as well. ®

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