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Intel interested in building Apple's mobile A4, A5 chips: report

post #1 of 73
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Intel is interested in gaining Apple's mobile chip manufacturing business, competing against the company's existing producer Samsung and other independent foundries Apple is rumored to be considering.

Intel currently makes the CPUs powering Apple's notebooks and desktops, but Apple has increasingly turned to ARM processors to power its iPods, Airport base stations, and iOS devices including the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV.

Apple has also taken an increasing interest in designing its own ARM application processors, branding last year's chip the A4, and unveiling a new A5 in conjunction with the release of iPad 2. Both parts are built by Samsung from Apple's design, which incorporates licensed intellectual property from both ARM and Imagination Technologies.

Because the design is Apple's and does not belong to Samsung, Apple could team up with other chip fabricators to ensure a steady supply, to seek better pricing or improved production technologies, or simply to avoid doing business with Samsung, which is currently embroiled in legal disputes with Apple.

Apple had been rumored to be making plans with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to produce the company's A5.

Those plans were said to be motivated by the competitive efforts Samsung is making to produce very similar products to Apple's iPhone 4, iPod touch, and iPad, the subject of Apple's side of its lawsuit against Samsung. Apple was also said to be interested in TSMC's leading yields in the manufacturing of 40 nanometer processors.



Intel A5?

In a new report by EE Times citing Gus Richard, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co., Intel is said to also be interested in producing Apple's mobile chips.

"Intel's manufacturing lead gives Apple an additional competitive advantage in these markets and distances it from Asian competitors that are knocking off its products,'' Richard said. ''Furthermore, it would also serve to weaken Samsung who is a significant competitive threat to both companies.''

Richard noted that "While it will take a few years for Apple to shift foundry suppliers, we believe Apple is shifting away from Samsung. We believe TSMC will start getting revenue from Apple in Q4 of this year. We believe the recent patent lawsuit between the two companies is further evidence to support our belief that Apple is moving its silicon needs elsewhere.''

A report from January indicated that Samsung was just beginning plans to increase application processor fabrication for Apple by a factor of four, dedicating a large proportion of the company's new $3.6 billion production facility in Austin, Texas, to building Apple's mobile processors.

Richard alluded to that deal and noted "we believe that Apple moving its foundry business away from Samsung is what has recently driven Samsung to reduce equipment orders, as it will likely repurpose this capacity [in Austin] for memory."

Apple's CPU business

Apple shifted its desktop Mac CPUs to standard architectures from Intel beginning in 2005 after the PowerPC alliance it helped to create ran out of steam, leaving Apple stranded as the only mainstream platform using the architecture.

Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs, whose earlier NeXT platform had shifted to Intel in the early 90s, was said to have wanted to shift the Mac to Intel five years earlier.

Apple had also helped to originate the mobile use of ARM processors in the early 90s with the Newton Message Pad, which was discontinued in 1998. Three years later, Apple began using ARM chips again in the iconic iPod, and is now one of the largest consumers of ARM processors, and one of few companies large enough to benefit from developing its own custom versions of ARM application processors.

Intel briefly ran its own ARM business named XScale before selling it off to Marvell at a huge loss in 2006. It then embarked on efforts to produce an x86-compatible mobile chip now named Atom.

Apple was rumored to be interested in using Atom (then called Silverthorne) to power what would become the iPad, but the company chose to go with its own ARM designs after finding Intel's mobile chips to be too power hungry. Intel's inability to catch ARM in mobile applications also prompted Microsoft to announce a shift in Windows 8 to support other chip architectures, including ARM, for tablet products.

Being able to reenter the mobile chip market by simply partnering with Apple as a chip fabricator could provide a strong incentive to Intel to fight for the iPhone-maker's business, much the same way that Microsoft has worked to establish partnerships with Nokia and RIM to promote Bing search as a competitor to Google's services after its own Windows Phone 7 mobile platform failed in the marketplace.
post #2 of 73
um, duh?
post #3 of 73
Not Duh. This is actually a big shift (if true) for intel. it would be a return to making arm chips which they dismissed for their own proprietary chips.
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post #4 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by spliff monkey View Post

Not Duh. This is actually a big shift (if true) for intel. it would be a return to making arm chips which they dismissed for their own proprietary chips.

duh, meaning: of course intel is interested in building mobile processors for Apple.
post #5 of 73
Ahh money.... how it changes minds.
post #6 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by OllieWallieWhiskers View Post

duh, meaning: of course intel is interested in building mobile processors for Apple.

But again not duh, because it means they have to do something they DISMISSED 10 or so years ago or so.
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post #7 of 73
Bad idea to let Intel manufacture the A chips because Intel being a maker themselves can and will steal whatever secrets they have which make them tick without having to do any R&D of their own.

I don't think Apple should trust them and it is better to let TSMC to do the manufacturing because they don't have any vested interest.
post #8 of 73
RISC vs CISC all over again?
post #9 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by AdamC View Post

Bad idea to let Intel manufacture the A chips because Intel being a maker themselves can and will steal whatever secrets they have which make them tick without having to do any R&D of their own.

I don't think Apple should trust them and it is better to let TSMC to do the manufacturing because they don't have any vested interest.

There's really no 'secret sauce' here as the ARM design is openly licensable to anyone. It makes sense for Apple to second source the manufacture of their design especially since Samsung is a competitor.

Apple and Intel have collaborated in the past (Thunderbolt) and Intel is currently the exclusive provider of microprocessors for Macintosh. Intel would like to 'own' the chip market for mobile devices, but not only is Atom too power hungry, but it's 'exclusive' business model is wrong for this market. I think Intel realizes that in the short run they are better off manufacturing ARM. In the long run, they will continue to push their own designs too...
post #10 of 73
Stick it to Samsung

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post #11 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by AdamC View Post

Bad idea to let Intel manufacture the A chips because Intel being a maker themselves can and will steal whatever secrets they have which make them tick without having to do any R&D of their own.

I don't think Apple should trust them and it is better to let TSMC to do the manufacturing because they don't have any vested interest.

That makes little sense.

1) apple is unlikely to have much that intel coul learn in the chip design business. Intel could easily design an ARM processor which would be better than any other in a couple of years. The reason they don't do this is because they want to establish x86 as the mobile platform because there are hardly any x86 competitors as opposed to the 100s in the ARM design space.

2) Intel is not going to risk the millions and billions they are getting from manufacturing Apple chips (an amount that will increase exponentially if they are fabbing mobile chips also) for the minimal advantage stealing Apple's designs will give them.

3) initel being a US based company, it will be far easier for apple to pursue legal recourse if Intel is stupid enough to steal apple's designs.
post #12 of 73
Intel has a history of collaboration with Apple and will be a better alternative and reliable part supplier considering the current court battle between Apple and Samsung. Apple is after all not biting the finger that feeds it as alluded by some.
post #13 of 73
Intel is one of the few big US companies that keeps many of it's factories in the US and pumps Billions and Billions into the local US economies.

Having Intel's leading processing technology and having the Billions Apple invests in these chips stay at home is a win win for Apple and the US and will help keep the competition at bay.

I truly hope this comes to pass, and I wish Apple would do more to invest in other US suppliers and manufacturers - After all Americans have been the main source of Apple's success - willing to pay the higher hardware costs for quality and are the reason Apple survived, grew and exists to date.
post #14 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by karmadave View Post

In the long run, they will continue to push their own designs too...

I am sure intel realizes that if they are manufacturing for apple already, the moment they have a design that can compete with ARM apple would pick it up and there'd would be no quicker way for intel to become a player in this market than to nab the iPhone/iPad business.

Intel emphasized when announcing that they would supply chips for the Mac that the biggest reason they wanted to partner with apple was the opportunity to easily bring new technology to the market. Eg. Thee is literally no other company that could have brought TB to so many devices so quickly, to the point where there'd is a strong possibility that it may even displace usb3 (unlikely, but there would literally have been no chance without apple)
post #15 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by 1st View Post

RISC vs CISC all over again?

I think it means that the A6 will be made by Intel, but still designed by Apple.
post #16 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by spliff monkey View Post

But again not duh, because it means they have to do something they DISMISSED 10 or so years ago or so.

There's a difference. Intel wasn't having success with their own Arm chips, but now, they would be doing this as a foundry for Apple, and perhaps for others.
post #17 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by AdamC View Post

Bad idea to let Intel manufacture the A chips because Intel being a maker themselves can and will steal whatever secrets they have which make them tick without having to do any R&D of their own.

I don't think Apple should trust them and it is better to let TSMC to do the manufacturing because they don't have any vested interest.

That's ridiculous!
post #18 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Intel is interested in gaining Apple's mobile chip manufacturing business, competing against the company's existing producer Samsung and other independent foundries Apple is rumored to be considering....

Two things:

1) Apple designs and makes their own chips and which company gets to actually fabricate them is essentially meaningless. So, even if this is true, it doesn't mean that the chips would be "intel chips" in any real sense of the word.

2) The entire story originates with Seth Weintraub who is a complete idiot and almost always wrong about anything not related to simple business news.

So ... the whole story is quite likely to be a mistakenly reported in some way and it doesn't really mean much even if it's true.
post #19 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by karmadave View Post

There's really no 'secret sauce' here as the ARM design is openly licensable to anyone. ...

Not actually true.

The base ARM designs are indeed open to anyone, Apple has made a lot of modifications however and the SoC they design with the same underlying ARM architecture regularly outperforms the competition in leaps and bounds. So while Hummingbird chips are based on the same architecture, the A5 runs rings around it at equivalent Megahertz.
post #20 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by karmadave View Post

There's really no 'secret sauce' here as the ARM design is openly licensable to anyone. It makes sense for Apple to second source the manufacture of their design especially since Samsung is a competitor.

Apple and Intel have collaborated in the past (Thunderbolt) and Intel is currently the exclusive provider of microprocessors for Macintosh. Intel would like to 'own' the chip market for mobile devices, but not only is Atom too power hungry, but it's 'exclusive' business model is wrong for this market. I think Intel realizes that in the short run they are better off manufacturing ARM. In the long run, they will continue to push their own designs too...

Apple does have their own sauce in their chips. Companies license base ARM designs from Arm, and then change whatever they need to. Normally, it's chip manufacturers who do this, and then sell the chips to device manufacturers. Apple needs a good 125 million a year now, and 200 million very soon, so it pays for them to do their own mods to the design.

I'm not worried about Intel stealing Apple's IP. But intel does have the world's best fabs. What would we have if the A5 was on Intel's 32nm's process? How about next year's 22nm?

Neither Samsung or TSMC are close to where intel is, much less where they will be.
post #21 of 73
Yeah, Atom's a real winner </sarcasm>. I mean, cripple the x86 and it still can't beat ARM in power usage. Even Microsoft has ported Windows to ARM. Kind of makes me wonder how well the A5 could scale up for heavy-duty server use.

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post #22 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by 1st View Post

RISC vs CISC all over again?

Nope, RISC won. Long live CISC

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post #23 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by addicted44 View Post

That makes little sense.

1) apple is unlikely to have much that intel coul learn in the chip design business. Intel could easily design an ARM processor which would be better than any other in a couple of years. The reason they don't do this is because they want to establish x86 as the mobile platform because there are hardly any x86 competitors as opposed to the 100s in the ARM design space.

2) Intel is not going to risk the millions and billions they are getting from manufacturing Apple chips (an amount that will increase exponentially if they are fabbing mobile chips also) for the minimal advantage stealing Apple's designs will give them.

3) initel being a US based company, it will be far easier for apple to pursue legal recourse if Intel is stupid enough to steal apple's designs.

Intel failed with their ARM designs. That's why they sold out at a loss. I remember it. Intel doesn't have the IP to do these designs. They're too fixated on x86.

Apple's designs seem to have some pretty good IP from Intrisity's team, and possibly from the PA RISC team as well. We just have to look at the performance if the iPad 2 vs the tablets running on what was thought to be such a good SoC, the Tegra 2, that the iPad 2 would be at a disadvantage. The iPad wiped the floor with it. Of course, a fair part of that is the gpu from Imagination, a company that both Apple and Intel are invested in. So there's some commonality there too.

For the past two years I've been wondering why Apple hasn't pursued Intel as a partner for this, especially as Intel has expressed an interest in again doing foundry work, which they stopped doing a while ago. Intel would be thrilled to get this business from Apple. I'm sure of it.
post #24 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by OllieWallieWhiskers View Post

um, duh?

Quote:
Originally Posted by spliff monkey View Post

Not Duh. This is actually a big shift (if true) for intel. it would be a return to making arm chips which they dismissed for their own proprietary chips.

Quote:
Originally Posted by OllieWallieWhiskers View Post

duh, meaning: of course intel is interested in building mobile processors for Apple.

Quote:
Originally Posted by spliff monkey View Post

But again not duh, because it means they have to do something they DISMISSED 10 or so years ago or so.

duh or not duh, that is the question.
post #25 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

Two things:

1) Apple designs and makes their own chips and which company gets to actually fabricate them is essentially meaningless. So, even if this is true, it doesn't mean that the chips would be "intel chips" in any real sense of the word.

2) The entire story originates with Seth Weintraub who is a complete idiot and almost always wrong about anything not related to simple business news.

So ... the whole story is quite likely to be a mistakenly reported in some way and it doesn't really mean much even if it's true.

Seth is a Google and Android fanboi. He's not an Apple fan by any means. It can be annoying to read his stuff as he often twists it to somehow make Apple look bad, and, even if he doesn't mention them, Google good.
post #26 of 73
Intel will charge a lot more than Samsung for manufacturing the chips. Doesn't make sense to pick a higher-cost manufacturer just to stick it to Samsung.
post #27 of 73
This will go to ARM's Global Foundries, not Intel.

Apple would dump Intel if the ARM was as capable as the Intel because they could expand their custom SoC designs.
post #28 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

Nope, RISC won. Long live CISC

ARM is RISC. Long live RISC.
post #29 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by addicted44 View Post

I am sure intel realizes that if they are manufacturing for apple already, the moment they have a design that can compete with ARM apple would pick it up and there'd would be no quicker way for intel to become a player in this market than to nab the iPhone/iPad business.

Intel emphasized when announcing that they would supply chips for the Mac that the biggest reason they wanted to partner with apple was the opportunity to easily bring new technology to the market. Eg. Thee is literally no other company that could have brought TB to so many devices so quickly, to the point where there'd is a strong possibility that it may even displace usb3 (unlikely, but there would literally have been no chance without apple)

WRONG. You don't get Apple's long-term strategy. I do have the advantage of working for Steve twice and his reason to jump to Intel was because PowerPC was failing, not because he wanted to jump ship.

Apple's A4/A5/A6/AX SoC with ImageTec is working and exploding in growth. Intel killed itself by getting rid of XScale and thinking this POS Atom platform would protect their future in the embedded world. It hasn't and it never will.

Intel's recognizes that ARM based solutions are driving the largest markets of profits, not the legacy x86 platform.

In short, Intel recognizes that they are in a mature market that produces predictable quarters and thus a predictable stock price. They would be better off splitting the corporation up into 3 different companies and let the chips fall where they may. A few of my friends working for Intel agreed with my assessment after speaking to them in the past month, and shortly after their farce of a Intel Developer Conference in Asia where they projected 15 billion new Atom processor solutions by 2014, with up to 40 billion w/ Ericsson as a partner. A complete joke.

http://www.h-online.com/open/news/it...F-1226249.html

Intel will never own the embedded space. They've lost this war.
post #30 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

There's a difference. Intel wasn't having success with their own Arm chips, but now, they would be doing this as a foundry for Apple, and perhaps for others.


Fair enough. Very true.
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post #31 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

Seth is a Google and Android fanboi. He's not an Apple fan by any means. It can be annoying to read his stuff as he often twists it to somehow make Apple look bad, and, even if he doesn't mention them, Google good.

i've had the very same thoughts. i always get a little nauseated when i read his website, and it's nice to hear someone reaffirm my suspicions. they're so prolific with their stories though, i at least try to follow their RSS feed.

anyway, this story makes a lot of sense to me. there's a lot of incentives for apple to partner with intel. i think apples IP would be more protected in the states with less chance of leaking and copying. apple already has a lot of IP that they have acquired, and it doesn't matter if intel has the ability to design competitive chips, they are hindered by their lack of ARM IP (didn't they buy intrinisity though?) also, it would be great to keep some manufacturing/money in the USA. lastly, samsung doesn't seem like a great partner if they blatantly rip off IP without remorse.
post #32 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

Yeah, Atom's a real winner </sarcasm>. I mean, cripple the x86 and it still can't beat ARM in power usage. Even Microsoft has ported Windows to ARM. Kind of makes me wonder how well the A5 could scale up for heavy-duty server use.

Indeed. I'm of the opinion that we'll eventually see Macs with ARM-based processors. After all, they already ported OS X to ARM once.
post #33 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shunnabunich View Post

Indeed. I'm of the opinion that we'll eventually see Macs with ARM-based processors. After all, they already ported OS X to ARM once.

I have no doubt they have builds of Snow Leopard (and Lion) running on ARM in Apple HQ. In a few years the MacBook Airs will probably be running on ARM.
post #34 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by mdriftmeyer View Post

WRONG. They would be better off splitting the corporation up into 3 different companies and let the chips fall where they may.

Good lord, have you been saving that up?
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post #35 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

Not actually true.

The base ARM designs are indeed open to anyone, Apple has made a lot of modifications however and the SoC they design with the same underlying ARM architecture regularly outperforms the competition in leaps and bounds. So while Hummingbird chips are based on the same architecture, the A5 runs rings around it at equivalent Megahertz.

I stand corrected Professor

Apple no doubt has some of the best designers, in the world, working on ARM designs. Intel makes sense as a manufacturing partner since they are the worlds largest chip manufacturer. In any case, the fact that Apple might even be considering this gives them further leverage with their existing contract manufacturers.
post #36 of 73
Just a rumor and nothing more!
post #37 of 73
Would love to see this happen, but I highly doubt it will. I think the obscure fabricator in Taiwan is the best choice, that way apple can be sure that it's designs aren't being ripped off on a massive scale by it's partners.
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post #38 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by 21yr_mac_user View Post

Intel is one of the few big US companies that keeps many of it's factories in the US and pumps Billions and Billions into the local US economies.

Having Intel's leading processing technology and having the Billions Apple invests in these chips stay at home is a win win for Apple and the US and will help keep the competition at bay.

I truly hope this comes to pass, and I wish Apple would do more to invest in other US suppliers and manufacturers - After all Americans have been the main source of Apple's success - willing to pay the higher hardware costs for quality and are the reason Apple survived, grew and exists to date.

Intel doesn't keep its fabs in the US because of some altruistic concern for the US economy. It's just that there is more protection for IP in the US than there is in other countries, e.g. China. Intel doesn't want its IP getting ripped off in another country. That's why even though they have to pay higher salaries to do it in the US, they can at least keep an eye on the fabs to prevent someone from walking off with proprietary technology. I heard this from a friend who works for Intel.
post #39 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

Would love to see this happen, but I highly doubt it will. I think the obscure fabricator in Taiwan is the best choice, that way apple can be sure that it's designs aren't being ripped off on a massive scale by it's partners.

I hope you're not referring to TSMC as "the obscure fabricator in Taiwan". You are aware that they are one of the largest fabs outside of Intel, right?
post #40 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post


1) Apple designs and makes their own chips and which company gets to actually fabricate them is essentially meaningless. So, even if this is true, it doesn't mean that the chips would be "intel chips" in any real sense of the word.

Although it might not matter who fabricates the chips if you are comparing fabs using similar techniques, Intel is promoting their advanced process technology. Currently the A5 is fabricated on a 45nm process. Imagine if they fabricated the same chip using a 32 or 22nm design. They would have an even bigger advantage over the competition.

True Apple has created a custom ARM-based design, but I think in this case who makes the chip (and more importantly how it is made) makes a huge difference. If Apple partners with Intel on this to make their A-series chips, wouldn't the product be considered an "Intel ARM-based chip designed by Apple." That's game changing.

That being said, isn't this all based on financial analyst speculation? Unless they have inside knowledge, this would be a huge, unexpected move by both companies. I would love to see it happen though.
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