updated 09:00 pm EDT, Wed August 1, 2012
Needs to play catch-up against ARM, Intel low-power chips
Jim Keller, a veteran chip designer who started with Digital Equipment Corporation's Alpha processor before eventually starting P.A. Semi and subsequently joining Apple, has left the company to join Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Keller will help lead the company in an effort to develop lower-power but more-efficient processors based on the ARM design, similar to the work he did with P.A. Semi and Apple. AMD recently noted it was now licensing ARM's processor designs.
Keller was the founder of P.A. Semi, which was purchased by Apple and brought in-house in 2008 for $278 million. Since then, Keller has helped Apple improve battery life on its mobile devices and helped launch Apple's own line of processors (also based on ARM Cortex designs). Ironically, Keller will be working under a former Apple colleague at AMD -- Mark Papermaster, lured to Apple from IBM in a contentious hire in 2009 but let go a little over a year later after he didn't fit in with he executive team there. Papermaster is now AMD's chief technology officer.
AMD has explained the move to licensing Cortex-A5 designs as being necessary to quickly get security and lower-power features into its chips, but hiring Keller suggests that AMD may repeat Apple's success and devote resources to getting back into a serious rivalry with Intel. The latter company took considerable time to get up to speed on low-power chips for desktop and mobile devices but has made great progress in recent years. However, Intel's server lineup is still seen as power-hungry compared to rivals ranging from AMD to Marvel and the company could be vulnerable to a faster-moving rival with the shift to energy-efficient chips across all computing product lines.
Keller has worked for AMD in the past, where he contributed to their initial 64-bit chips such as the Opteron and Athlon. Apple continues to utilize P.A. Semi engineers and its own staff in a chip engineering facility in Texas. Samsung recently opened its own chip factory there, in part to assist Apple with production on its own next-generation silicon.