• Hummingbird Powers A4: Report

    A report in the IEEE magazine Spectrum indicates that Intrinsity - the company behind Samsung's fast Hummingbird processor - designed Apple's new A4 system-on-a-chip (SoC), rather than Apple's PA Semi talent, as previously believed. Meanwhile, reports indicate that Agnilux, the company started by the PA Semi engineers who left Apple, may be getting bought by Google, setting the stage for a new battle in the growing war between the two industry giants.

    Apple's acquisition of PA Semi back in 2008 was seen as a sign that the company was working on new fast, power-efficient chips for its mobile devices. And when Apple announced that the iPad was powered by custom silicon that was designed in-house, the assumption was that the PA Semi engineers played a large role in that: the iPad's battery life is one of its bragging points, and PA Semi has a long history in low-power chip design. The main problem with that story, though, is that a new chip usually takes a long time to design and develop - Qualcomm took three years to develop its fast Snapdragon core - and it's unlikely that the PA Semi engineers would have had time from the April 2008 acquisition to the beginning of iPad manufacturing in the early part of this year.

    Intrinsity, on the other hand, had delivered the Hummingbird for Samsung in 2009, so they had working, proven technology. IFixit's A4 teardown, furthermore, showed Samsung markings on the SoC's core, leaving open the possibility that Apple just bought up a bunch of Hummingbirds for their new chip. At the same time, though, Intrinsity engineers now show up as Apple employees and the company's website is "down for maintenance." So the strong likelihood is that they either built an A4 version of the Hummingbird or used Intrinsity expertise to integrate off-the-shelf cores into their new chip.

    AppleInsider's story on the IEEE report notes that Apple's PA Semi acquisition may not bear fruit until 2011 (staying with the three-year design lifecycle of a new CPU). However, some PA Semi engineers won't be around to see it: talent has been quietly leaving over the past year into the new startup called Agnilux, and reports are emerging that Google has purchased the company. It's never been clear what Agnilux - which has reportedly been in talks with companies like Cisco and Microsoft - is working on, but a post on the New York Times Bits blog suggests that the engineers will be working on power management for a Google tablet device that is currently in development.
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