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Apple pledges support for PA Semi processor

Posted: 16 Jul 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:PA Semi processor? Apple? CPU? military application?

Apple Inc. has given its word to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) that it will supply for at least three years the PowerPC-based processor it acquired with startup PA Semi. The DoD investigated the merger following reports that Apple will cut production of the startup's CPU, which has been designed into a number of military applications.

Apple sent a letter to the DoD saying it will assure production of the 1.8GHz PWRficient processor for three to five years, said one source who saw the letter but asked not to be named. The letter suggests Apple will explore selling the designs to a third party after that time.

Engineering samples of the CPUs are now going out to a handful of board makers who have designed single-board computers with the parts. Production of the chip is expected to start in September.

A number of military systems contractors will proceed with their designs thanks to the agreement, the source said. However, others have decided to shift to other processors that will have an ongoing road map of updated parts.

Apple acquired P.A. Semi Inc. for a reported $268 million. The deal officially closed within the last two weeks, according to the source. To date, Apple has declined to comment on the P.A. Semi acquisition.

On April 21, P.A. Semi informed its customers it was being acquired and it could no longer guarantee supplies of its chips. The startup said the acquiring company was not interested in the startup's products or road map but purchased the 150-person company for its intellectual property and talent.

At that time, PA Semi officials did not identify Apple but said the acquiring company may be willing to supply the chip on an end-of-life basis, if it could successfully transfer a third-party license to the technology. The license in question is probably a PowerPC architectural license that PA Semi has with IBM Corp. that allowed the startup to design its own PowerPC chip from scratch.

PA Semi launched its PA6T-1682M in February 2007. The dual-core 64bit PowerPC variant consumes as little as 15W while running at up to 2GHz. Cards using the chip delivered significantly greater performance than their competitors while shaving power consumption by as much as 30 percent.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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