Chip Design Luminary Leaves Samsung for Apple

Wall Street Journal – Samsung recently raised eyebrows by beefing up its team of Texas-based chip designers, including those whose backgrounds pointed to an interest in chips for server systems. Now one of the most prominent of those recruits has left the South Korean company for Apple AAPL -2.00%.

The gadget maker has hired Jim Mergard, a 16-year veteran of Advanced Micro Devices AMD +1.59% who was a vice president and chief engineer there before he left for Samsung. He is known for playing a leading role in the development of a high-profile AMD chip that carried the code name Brazos and was designed for low-end portable computers.

Veteran technical talent is in high demand and there are many opportunities for top-flight engineers to move between companies. But any movement between Samsung and Apple comes at an interesting time.

The companies, of course, are bitter rivals in smartphones. They are also locked in litigation, with Apple accusing Samsung of patent infringement and Samsung firing back with claims of its own. At the same time, they are partners; Apple leans on Samsung and its big factory in Austin, Tex., to make the chips Apple has designed for its smartphones and tablets.

Chip design seems to be increasingly important to both companies. Samsung, while better known for memory technology, has vowed to become a more formidable contender in developing microprocessors and related products. Apple also has been staffing up for several years with chip designers to help differentiate its mobile devices. Both use technology from ARM Holdings ARM.LN +0.09% in their mobile processors.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on Mergard’s hiring.

Patrick Moorhead, a former AMD executive who now leads the research firm Moor Insights & Strategy, said Mergard brings deep expertise in both PC technology as well as in products known as SoCs–systems on a chip–that combine various kinds of special-function circuitry on a single piece of silicon.

Besides the current breed of Apple smartphones and tablets, Moorhead says Mergard’s talents could potentially be applied to Apple’s PC efforts, where its Macs use Intel chips but not SoCs. “He would be very capable of pulling together internal and external resources to do a PC processor for Apple,” Moorhead says.

It is not clear whether Mergard will work at Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters or remain in Austin, where he worked for AMD and Samsung. Apple has long operated a customer support center in the Texas capitol, but the company has had a local presence in chip design as well since its 2010 purchase of the startup Intrinsity.

Mergard’s profile is not currently listed on LinkedIn, but another employee in Apple’s Austin operations who posted on that website put its status this way: “We are looking for the best and brightest chip heads…”


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