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Look for PA Semi's chip designs in upcoming Apple tablet

Reports surfaced today that Apple will launch an $800 tablet computer in October. But we’ve dug out something interesting ourselves: the processor chip for the tablet is being designed by Apple’s own internal chip team.

Apple acquired PA Semi in April, 2008 for $278 million. It never said what it planned to do with the chip design firm, which featured star chip designers including Dan Dobberpuhl and Jim Keller. But we’ve learned that PA Semi’s team was split into two parts, one designing portable ARM-based processors for iPhones and iPods, and another designing a processor for the tablet device.

Our source noted that Apple acquired some incredible design talent with the PA Semi team, which was behind the original Digital Equipment Corp. Alpha processor and the StrongArm processor, which was a speedy low-power processor family that was acquired by Intel and then sold to Marvell. The Wall Street Journal confirmed recently that Apple has a substantial chip design effort under way.

But no one really knew what the chip team was doing. It makes sense that Apple would divide the multi-talented team into an effort focused on the mobile space and something else focused on more substantial designs for tablet computers or netbooks. There’s a lot we don’t know about this project. But given the rumors floating into us and to others, it definitely seems like there is something going on. It seems fairly early for PA Semi’s team to be finishing a chip for launch in a product debuting in the fall.

The stories surfacing today from the China Times and MacRumors say that Apple will debut this tablet, which is its first netbook (smaller than laptop web-browsing device), in time for the holiday shopping season. It says three companies — Foxconn, Wintek, and Dynapack — have received orders from Apple related to the tablet.

Apple’s tablets are said to be using touch screens. Apple is apparently shooting for high-end users and is thus staying out of the price war in the low end of the market, where companies such as Acer and Asus are fighting it out. (Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook has said the company isn’t interested in making traditional netbooks.) If Apple’s chip designers are indeed creating their own ARM-based chip for the tablet, that would help Apple reduce its costs. It won’t, for instance, have to pay a markup to other chip design companies such as Samsung or Intel.

[photo illustration: Gizmodo]

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  1. [...] But Anobit would certainly fit nicely with Apple’s purchase of P.A. Semi in 2008, which was instrumental in developing the company’s A4 and A5 mobile chips. The acquisition would also be Apple’s first in Israel, which has become a hotbed of [...]

  2. [...] out. But Anobit would certainly fit nicely with Apple’s purchase of P.A. Semi in 2008, which was instrumental in developing the company’s A4 and A5 mobile chips. The acquisition would also be Apple’s first in Israel, which has become a hotbed of innovation [...]