by Anton Shilov
12/30/2010 | 04:43 PM
Apple has done a lot of bold things in the recent decade. The company switched to x86 from PowerPC, it introduced a phone with a touch-screen and a personal computer in slate form-factor as well as designed its first system-on-chip aimed specifically at its own devices. Apparently, now Apple wants to design its own processor micro-architecture, something that may potentially give its products tangible performance advantages over competitors.
At present Apple is looking for experienced qualified engineers to work/lead the micro-architecture design of a CPU. The job includes designing micro-architecture according to performance and functionality requirements. In addition, Apple wants to hire an experienced and well rounded CPU design professional to work on the definition, design, and implementation of a CPU core. The candidate will be expected to work closely with architects in product definition and feasibility analysis.
A micro-architecture is an implementation of particular CPU architecture that may or may not include enhancements, special instructions or special-purpose accelerators. For example, AMD Bulldozer and Intel Sandy Bridge are two x86 micro-architectures, whereas Intel/Marvell Xscale were micro-architectures based on ARMv5 architecture. Business models of companies like ARM Holdings allow to license a design and layout already developed by the licensor's engineers (which means that the logic is ready to be integrated into a system-on-chip), just a core design (which means that licensee has to implement the actual layout and then integrate the logic), or the architecture itself. By contrast, Intel licenses only x86 architecture alone to AMD and Via Technologies.
Apple's wish to design a micro-architecture practically indicates a plan to develop its own chips from the ground up, something, the company has never done before. It is presently unclear which architecture Apple plans to take to create its own micro-architecture, but one of the natural choices could be ARM as the company has a lot of experience with a variety of ARM-based designs and implementations. Less likely scenarios for Apple are x86 or PowerPC, which will ensure truly high performance levels, but which development costs are extremely high.
Since Apple does not sell chips, it is highly likely that its micro-architecture (based on whatever architecture) will remain exclusive for its own devices, such as iPad tablet, iPhone smartphone or whatever other low-power products the company may introduce in the future. SemiAccurate web-site suggests that going forward Apple may even develop a powerful ARM micro-architecture that will be suitable for fully-fledged Macintosh personal computers, provided that Apple Mac OS will be able to work with ARM chips.
With its own micro-architecture (it is even not important what architecture Apple licenses), Apple will be able not only offer exclusive features and unique levels of performance, but its devices may obtain capabilities truly not available on products from other companies. Besides, Apple will further tie its hardware with its software, something that it has been trying to do historically.
Apple did not comment on the news-story.