Apple Buys Second ARM Specialist, Chip Maker Intrinsity

Apple has purchased its second chip design firm, an Austin, TX-based company called Intrinsity. The New York Times reported that Apple closed a deal with the company, which specializes in making ARM processors faster than the competition, in late March for US$121 million.

The Times was able to confirm with Apple that the purchase had taken place, but was not able to confirm the purchase price. The paper cited Tom Halfhill, an analyst with Microprocessor Report, as the source of the $121 million price tag.

Intrinsity’s specialty is getting more speed out of the ARM processor family, specifically having been able to reach 1GHz when other ARM variants tend to operate at the 650MHz level. Astute observers will note that Apple’s A4, an ARM variant, runs at 1GHz. The article also noted that Intrinsity works with the same Samsung fab division that Apple worked with in producing the A4.

By buying Intrinsity, Apple would be able to keep that speed advantage to itself, which would offer a big edge in the increasingly competitive mobile devices market.

Apple already had a chip design firm after it bought PA Semi for $278 million in April of 2008. It had largely been thought that PA Semi’s engineering team was behind the A4’s design, but The Times report indicates that wasn’t the case. In addition, many of PA Semi’s engineers have left Apple since the acquisition, with at least one cadre having started up yet another company called Agnilux that was then bought by Google.

Accordingly, the Intrinsity purchase both locks up the technology behind the A4’s speed and helps fill out Apple’s chip design engineering after the PA Semi departures.

Be that as it may, Apple has more than $41 billion in cash on hand, acquisitions of the size of the Intrinsity purchase make such deals relatively trivial for Apple. Mr. Halfhill of Microprocessor Report characterized the purchase as “pocket change.”