Samsung’s chip wizard defects to Apple

An interesting development here in the never-ending Apple-Samsung saga. Per The Wall Street Journal, Apple has successfully lured Jim Mergard, one of Samsung’s most noted chip design luminaries, who joined the Mac maker to presumable help its silicon team create new processors for Apple devices. This has gotta be a blow to South Korea-based Samsung, whose components arm manufactures processors for iPhones, iPads and iPods, which are designed internally by Apple’s team of silicon engineers.

Mergard is said to have been tasked with developing ARM chips for servers at Samsung. Prior to joining Samsung, the chip expert was charged with the development of a “high-profile AMD chip that carried the code name Brazos and was designed for low-end portable computers”. It wasn’t immediately clear from the report whether Mergard joined Apple’s team that creates mobile chips of the unit which develops desktop products…

Perhaps Mergard will fill the shoes of Jim Keller, Apple’s lead chip designer who recently left for greener pastures at AMD?

According to Don Clark of The Wall Street Journal:

The gadget maker has hired Jim Mergard, a 16-year veteran of Advanced Micro Devices who was a vice president and chief engineer there before he left for Samsung. He is known for playing a leading role in the development of a high-profile AMD chip that carried the code name Brazos and was designed for low-end portable computers. […]

Apple’s also been rumored for ages to be switching away from Intel chips in Macs so poaching of Mergard may be connected to perhaps an ARM-based MacBook Air the company’s reportedly been prototyping for some time now.

AMD’s former exec Patrick Moorhead says Mergard “would be very capable of pulling together internal and external resources to do a PC processor for Apple”. A far more interesting possibility than a PC processor would be a next-generation chip for an Apple mobile device.

Moorhead notes as much, arguing that Mergard brings “deep expertise in both PC technology as well as in products known as SoCs – systems on a chip – that combine various kinds of special-function circuitry on a single piece of silicon”.

Sounds about right to me.

It is not clear whether Mergard will work at Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters or remain in Austin, where he worked for AMD and Samsung. Apple has long operated a customer support center in the Texas capitol, but the company has had a local presence in chip design as well since its 2010 purchase of the startup Intrinsity.

Let’s hope that Samsung doesn’t get even with Apple by luring retired SVP and former boss of all hardware at Apple, Bob Mansfield. Apple is paying Mansfield, a long term veteran, a cool $2 million a month just to advise CEO Tim Cook on chips and hardware.

Any company, let alone Samsung, would be happy to have someone of Mansfield caliber on board.

In addition to acquiring Intrinsity, Apple in years past also bought fabless semiconductor maker PA Semi, Israel-based Anobit and recently smart sensor maker AuthenTec.

Apple typically buys smaller companies for engineering talent.

With the aforementioned acquisitions, Apple’s been able to maintain an in-house team of silicon engineers who customize mobile chips so Apple’s devices can differentiate on hardware features (low power consumption, high performance), as opposed to rivals who take off-the-shelf components without doing any custom work.

So far, this team has only done minor design work on the A4 and A5 chips.

With the advent of the A6 chip that debuted inside the iPhone 5, Apple has done more complex work as the A6 package is deemed the company’s first fully customized designbased on the ARMv7 instruction set, delivering the world’s first phone powered by ARM’s Cortex A15 CPU platform.

Any chip expert to weigh in on this news?

What do you make of this, guys?