Apple acquires low-power chip designer PA Semi

Apple apparently wants to use PA Semi's PowerPC instruction set chips in future iPhones and iPods, which would require a port of its operating system away from ARM's chips and deal a significant blow to good friend Intel.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
2 min read

Apple has reportedly made a rare acquisition, snapping up low-power chip company PA Semi one day before reporting its quarterly earnings.

Forbes reported late Tuesday that Apple has agreed to purchase the company for a middling $278 million, quoting Apple spokesman Steve Dowling as confirming the deal. PA Semi made its debut a few years back designing low-power chips based on Apple's old friend, the Power architecture.

It's not clear what Apple might have in mind for PA Semi. I'd doubt Apple plans to get into the chip design game anytime soon, although having low-power chip experts on board would only help any company eyeing the next generation of mobile computing as clearly as Apple is doing at the moment. Forbes intimates that Apple is planning to put PA Semi's chips in the iPhone, which doesn't make any sense whatsoever at first glance.

PA Semi's chips are based on IBM's Power architecture. The iPhone uses a Samsung chip based on ARM's instruction set. It would seem quite a stretch that after just a year, Apple would find it necessary to port the iPhone's OS X operating system over to Power based on some supposed failing with ARM's low-power road map. If Apple was going to make any kind of porting move, it would have been much more logical--if not a slam dunk--for the company to embrace Intel's low-power Atom processors based on the same x86 instruction set used by the Mac, given its existing relationship with Intel.

Still, Forbes says the negotiations were led by Apple CEO Steve Jobs with the aim of putting PA Semi's PWRficient processors at the heart of the iPhone and future iPods, citing a source close to PA Semi. If that's true, Forbes is correct in noting this is a huge blow for Intel's Atom project, but I'm skeptical in these early hours as to Apple's eventual plans for the company and its employees.