Thursday, October 15, 2015

Apple’s Processor Advantage

Steve Cheney (comments):

One of Steve Jobs’ biggest legacies was his decision to stop relying on 3rd party semiconductor companies and create an internal silicon design team. I would go so far as to argue it’s one of the three most important strategic decisions he ever made.


It is – in fact – these chip making capabilities, which Jobs brought in-house shortly after the launch of the original iPhone, that have helped Apple create a massive moat between itself and an entire industry.


The truth is the best people in chip design no longer want to work at Intel or Qualcomm. They want to work at Apple. I have plenty of friends in the Valley who affirm this. Sure Apple products are cooler. But Apple has also surpassed Intel in performance. This is insane. A device company – which makes CPUs for internal use – surpassing Intel, the world’s largest chip maker which practically invented the CPU and has thousands of customers.

John Gruber:

I don’t think it has gotten through the heads of many people that Apple has now turned the old dynamic on its head. Apple’s ARM chips are years ahead of the commodity chips used by its competition, and are set to surpass even Intel’s x86 chips in terms of performance-per-watt.


We should clarify one point from Cheney’s headline — Apple’s lead is formidable, not insurmountable. Nothing in tech is insurmountable.

Dave Lee (comments):

The University of Wisconsin successfully claimed that Apple used its microchip technology without permission in some iPhones and iPads.

The patent, filed in 1998, is said to improve the power efficiency of microchips.


Looks like the “idea” of the patent in the description is to use a predictor to predict when a STORE and LOAD alias and not speculate the LOAD and any instruction depending on the load (although the claims generalize this to any non-static dependency).

As it generally happens in software/hardware patents, the claimed solution seems quite obvious whenever one wants to solve that particular problem, and the hard part is the “execution”, i.e. implementing it efficiently and figuring out whether the tradeoffs are worth it.

Joe Mullin:

In this case, WARF said the ’752 patent improves the A7, A8, and A8X chips Apple uses in newer iPhones and iPads. Now that the jury has found Apple liable, it will decide on damages; in earlier orders, US District Judge William Conley has written that the maximum in damages that can be claimed is $862.4 million. A third phase of the trial will determine whether Apple was a “willful” infringer; if so, damages could be tripled. If both the damage and wilfulness phases go poorly for Apple, it could be a record-breaking verdict.

John Gruber:

The more I think about it, the more sure I am that it’s wrong to call WARF a patent “troll”. They are a non-practicing entity, but a university almost has to be. Universities don’t produce commercial products, they conduct research. And WARF uses its patent royalties to fund research.

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