Apple’s A15 CPU fails to impress. Is a brain drain to blame?

“As Apple once drained resources out of Intel,” writes Dylan Patel, “the reverse seems to be happening now.”

From Patel’s “Apple CPU Gains Grind To A Halt And The Future Looks Dim As The Impact From The CPU Engineer Exodus To Nuvia And Rivos Starts To Bleed In” posted Tuesday on SemiAnalysis:

Apple has been long hailed for having the best CPU cores for consumer workloads for years. They have by far the highest performance per clock and efficiency driven by performance in the same class as AMD and Intel’s best current CPUs. This was driven by breakneck gains with architectural changes every year for a decade.

Now with the A15, these gains are really slowed…

It appears Apple has not changed the CPU much this generation. SemiAnalysis believes that the next generation core was delayed out of 2021 into 2022 due to CPU engineer resource problems. In 2019, Nuvia was founded and later acquired by Qualcomm for $1.4B. Apple’s Chief CPU Architect, Gerard Williams, as well as over a 100 other Apple engineers left to join this firm. More recently, SemiAnalysis broke the news about Rivos Inc, a new high performance RISC V startup which includes many senior Apple engineers. The brain drain continues and impacts will be more apparent as time moves on. As Apple once drained resources out of Intel and others through the industry, the reverse seems to be happening now.

We believe Apple had to delay the next generation CPU core due to all the personnel turnover Apple has been experiencing. Instead of a new CPU core, they are using a modified version of last year’s core.

My take: A troubling development, if true, given the importance of Apple Silicon to the Apple bull case.

17 Comments

  1. Rodney Avilla said:
    My Take: very troubling. I have no doubt Apple has the finances to pull out of it, but it takes time. And things, CPU wise, may move slower for awhile.

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    September 15, 2021
  2. David Emery said:
    Meh… Here-say and speculation.

    4
    September 15, 2021
  3. Alan Trerise said:
    Again I blame the upcoming AR goggles. If the specs The Information reported on are accurate they will require some hefty silicon magic. Current products are being advanced by the second string.

    0
    September 15, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      Current products are being advanced by the second string.

      My personal opinion is that Apple’s second string is stronger than anyone else’s first string, despite the loss of a couple hundred engineers.

      5
      September 15, 2021
  4. True or not, I don’t know of anyone (beyond this forum perhaps) that buys iPhones specifically for the A## chip. Camera, display, web browsing, security, style, durability and ability to catch & hold a 4G or 5G signal, yes. Chip design? Nanometers ? Nah. They don’t even want to talk about it, too technical & irrelevant to their roles.
    Is the loss of key staff important to me as a long investor? Yes, to some extent but Apple’s draw as a popular place to get a job remains. There’s no shortage of payroll cash. Worse case scenario, they buy certain chips from vendors, something they’ve always done.

    1
    September 15, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      Worse case scenario, they buy certain chips from vendors, something they’ve always done.

      Therein lies the real strength of Apple’s silicon design. Chips Apple once bought are now internally designed/licensed and included as SoCs on Apple silicon. This makes for much, much faster internal communication and far less heat generation.

      Nobody comes near the performance per Watt consumed that Apple gets from the “A” and “M” series of chips.

      3
      September 15, 2021
  5. Gregg Thurman said:
    A couple days ago I posted a link to an incredibly in depth analysis of Apple’s silicon.

    The conclusion of the writer was that Intel and AMD are dead meat, as is MSFT as computer users will increasingly rotate to M Series powered Macs (first to Mac Books then desktops). That leaves mobility iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Air Pods and future products. Here Apple’s lead comes down to the OS the competition uses. None are as tightly integrated as is Apple silicon, a diverse range of products and the OS.

    Of the players referenced in the article only Qualcomm stands a chance of competing. The problem here is that Apple rounding the first turn, while Qualcomm is just breaking away from the gate, and has no control over Android.

    Everybody should go back and read that article. You’ll find that “Apple is doomed” articles based on a so-called brain drain are just more journalistic bull crap.

    9
    September 15, 2021
    • Fred Stein said:
      Upvoted your last two comments.

      Folks forget that Apple’s increments on chips that are already far ahead.

      Apple always makes trade-offs to pursue the highest value efforts. Apple has to prioritize their internal design staff and TSMC resources. M-series may take more priority for this one cycle. M-series has the opportunity take share in categories ranging from the tablet to high-end professional users.

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      September 15, 2021
  6. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    I’m certainly not an expert on chip designs. But there is the challenge of extremely high production demands and necessarily very high yield requirements. The A15 series chips will power hundreds of millions of new Apple devices this model year alone. Not to take anything away from the author or the person’s knowledge of chip designs, but Apple has to satisfy demand as much as possible as it debuts new chips each year. I’m not concerned. I would be concerned if Apple was unable to have produced sufficient quantities of chips to meet demand for its products because the company moved faster on designs than its fabrication partner could deliver on high volume, high efficiency production. Production efficiency matters when addressing the aspirational needs and desires of over a billion Apple product users around the world.

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    September 15, 2021
  7. Fred Stein said:
    Gentle reminder that all the new iPhones have better battery life while gaining performance and brighter screens. Screens are power hogs.

    TSMC has other priorities from Apple and other customers, plus environmental and covid-19 issues.

    And yes, Qualcomm and others such as Google, Samsung, NVIDIA see the importance of Apple’s lead in chips. I’ve been ranting about this for a while. Losing 100 engineers to Qualcomm is a concern, not a death sentence.

    0
    September 15, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      Losing 100 engineers to Qualcomm is a concern, not a death sentence.

      Not covered in the article (intentional omission?) was how many engineers Qualcomm lost to Apple since it opened its San Diego office. Nor does the author mention engineering personnel moves away from Intel or AMD.

      As should be expected in any article about Apple, the piece is slanted to put Apple in its worst possible light.

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      September 15, 2021
      • Fred Stein said:
        Haha. I just checked. When Apple acquired Intel’s 5G assets for $1B, 2,200 employees came over to Apple.

        3
        September 15, 2021
    • John Konopka said:
      I believe that was the Macalope’s rule of Apple reporting. No matter what the information is it must be spun as bad for Apple.

      1
      September 15, 2021
  8. Mordechai Beizer said:
    Of course it may just be that Apple is focusing its silicon engineering capabilities on other strategic initiatives such as the modems needed to move away from Qualcomm or the teensy-weensy (a technical term) chips that are needed for AR. They may feel that they’ve built up enough of a lead in the core chipset that powers the iPhone and the Mac that they can focus on other initiatives.

    The “brain-drain” may be internal to Apple, i.e. from the core chipset to other areas.

    0
    September 15, 2021
  9. Robert LoCascio said:
    APPLE IS DOOMED (again). Yes, good engineers/employees move to other companies – so what! Apple has began developing this silicon revolution since 2008 when it acquired P.A. Semi. Now they’re a powerhouse in the silicon design and development space (13 years later), so the clickbait blogosphere has to spread the news of their death (which I believe is exaggerated). Apple moves at a snails pace in an otherwise incredibly fast-paced industry. They’ll quietly fix this (if it’s true) and move on.

    0
    September 15, 2021
  10. Roger Schutte said:
    Do we think Johny Srouji is the only one left in there working on the next generation chips that will be made with TSMC’s N3 tech? I don’t think so. Let’s give this some time. If there’s really a problem we’ll know about it much sooner than the decade or so that Intel has been spinning in circles. Let’s be real… there’s got to be a lot going on with transitioning to N3 for all these chips: M series, A series, watch, AirTags, AirPods, modems, AR, ADS, etc.

    No matter what – 300 million people are still going to buy new iPhones just to upgrade their 3-5 year old phones and they’re going to be so happy with the improved camera tech and battery life vs. what they’re using now.

    1
    September 15, 2021

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