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Even though Apple will gain a 64-bit PowerPC core and system-on-chip architecture as a result of its acquisition of PA Semi, its plans for the technology remain unclear. Analysts from Gartner market research company believe that Apple is likely to stick with Intel’s x86 architecture for several years and PowerPC architecture will have to wait some time before deployment, if Apple plans to re-deploy it at all.

So far the most notable achievement of PA Semi has been dual-core PA6T-1682M PWRficient processor with dual-channel DDR2 memory controller and 2MB level-two cache made using 65nm process technology based on the Power architecture. The chip consumes only 5W – 13W – 25W while running at 2GHz. Performance of the central processing unit is not known, but it was embraced by telecommunication, networking and wireless companies. Besides, it is rumoured that Apple was in talks with PA Semi regarding usage of its chips inside Macs.

Gartner believes that Apple could easily implement the PowerPC architecture in future products, but it will probably take several years to introduce the appropriate designs since current products by PA Semi will hardly satisfy the company’s clients in terms of performance, whereas development of highly-integrated system-on-chip (SoC) implementations may take up to several years, the market research firm believes. Apple will need to re-architect PA Semi’s products by “rebalancing the I/O and adding a graphics controller, creating low-cost, low-power chips” that enable new features and price points for wireless devices.

It should be noted SoC designs tend to reduce absolute performance in favor of features, form-factor and cost. Therefore, Gartner expects Apple to stick with the x86 architecture for its mainstream notebook and desktop products in the near future. It is possible that Apple will move its iPhone to Intel’s Atom processor first, and then move it to an Apple processor with a PowerPC core. The company could do this because its careful control of the iPhone platform makes architecture switches manageable.

This acquisition underscores the future proliferation of Internet-connected devices beyond the PC, the research firm noted. Gartner sees these possible segments in which Apple could use PA Semi’s technologies: small and very-low-cost notebooks, iPhone devices and other media devices. It should be kept in mind that these segments align with Intel’s Atom strategy (in light of the fact that next-year Intel plans to incorporate graphics core into Atom chips) as well, which may be a signal for Intel to boost capabilities of Atom and tailor it for Apple’s devices.


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