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WSJ: Apple lures leading chip designer away from Samsung

updated 06:58 pm EDT, Thu October 11, 2012

Mergard a highly-regarded system-on-chip designer

Former AMD chief engineer and US-based Samsung chip designer Jim Mergard is leaving the company to work for Apple, where his expertise on desktop system processors and SoC (systems on a chip) will make him a formidable asset in yet another front in the competition between tech companies: original chip design. Both Apple and Samsung rely increasingly on their own in-house designed chips, though both use technology from ARM as a foundation for their work, which is largely used in mobile devices.

Mergard's role at Apple hasn't yet been revealed, nor is it known if he will leave the Austin, TX area where he is currently based in order to make the switch, reports the Wall Street Journal. In an example of the complex relationship between the two companies, Samsung set up an Austin-based facility to manufacture chips for Apple, while Apple has recently expanded its facilities and gathered some of its chip designers into Austin (not far away from the Samsung plant) -- some of which were already there from Apple's acquisition of Intrinsity -- to help coordinate production and design the next generations of Apple's Ax chip series. Apple uses the custom-designed chips in its smartphones and tablets -- an area where it competes with Samsung, and is engaged in complex, multi-national litigation over patent infringements.

Mergard himself is described by contemporaries as being the sort of leading chip expert who could, if Apple wanted to pursue it, help the company design its own chips for desktop and notebook systems as well as mobile devices. His hiring will likely feed the fires of those speculating that Apple wants to eventually move away from using Intel-supplied chips, as both Samsung and Apple have found that the ability to make chips custom-designed for their own devices provides them with better, more targeted performance than "off-the-shelf" chips, and help to differentiate the products in the marketplace.

Mergard, who spent 16 years at AMD (now owned by NVIDIA) and rose to the rank of chief engineer and vice-president, is likely to be utilized as a team leader for Apple's in-house chip division. He leaves Samsung after less than two years there, even as the company recently began expanding the Austin-based team with engineers with more server-based chip backgrounds.

Mergard is probably best known for his leading role in developing the Brazos line of chips for AMD that are widely used in low-end notebooks and similar equipment. Apple's most recent self-designed chip, the dual-core A6, has been widely praised for its speed and battery efficiency, earning the iPhone 5 which it powers the title of "fastest smartphone on Earth." [via WSJ]

by MacNN Staff



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