Apple purchases alum's microchip company

4/24/2008

Bridget Maiellaro, ECE Illinois

Dan Dobberpuhl
Dan Dobberpuhl

After only a few weeks of talks, an Apple spokesman announced yesterday that the company will be purchasing P.A. Semi, a 150-person semiconductor business in Santa Clara, California, for $278 million. P.A. Semi, founded by ECE Illinois alumnus and 2003 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Dan Dobberpuhl, is known for specializing in low-power chips.

Dobberpuhl, president and CEO of P.A. Semi, was a lead designer of microprocessors in the 1990s, aiding in the creation of the well-known ALPHA and Strong-ARM chips. In addition, P.A. Semi introduced a 64-bit dual core microprocessor, which the company said is to be 300% more efficient than any comparable chips, in February 2007.

While Apple has not give an official statement on why the company purchased P.A. Semi, there is speculation that the P.A. Semi’s chips may be used in the iPhone and future Apple products.

"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not comment on our purposes and plans," Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said in an article on Forbes.com.

This is not the first time P.A. Semi was considered by Apple. Three years ago, when Apple still used PowerPCs, P.A. Semi was competing with Intel and IBM for a contract to design the devices’ chips. At the time, Dobberpuhl sought to create a chip that used little power. However, Apple settled on Intel’s microprocessors and quit using PowerPC chips.

After graduating from Illinois, Dobberpuhl worked at Digital Equipment Corporation in Palo Alto, California for more than 20 years. While there, he developed a number of microprocessors, including the ALPHA and Strong-ARM chips. In 1998, Dobberpuhl left Digital Equipment Corporation and cofounded SiByte Inc., serving as the president and CEO. At SiByte, he headed the development of the SB1250 chip. After the Broadcom Corporation purchased SiByte in 2000, Dobberpuhl soon became the vice president and general manager of the Broadband Processor Division of the company. He founded P.A. Semi in July 2003.

Over the years, Dobberpuhl has received many honors and recognitions. He was named one of the "40 forces to shape the future of the semiconductor industry" by EE Times in 1998 and granted the IEEE Solid State Circuits Award in 2003. Also that year, Dobberpuhl received the ECE Illinois Distinguished Alumni Award "in recognition for the design and engineering of a new generation of high-speed and low-power microprocessors." In 2006, Dobberpuhl was elected into the National Academy of Engineering for the "innovative design and implementation of high-performance, low-power microprocessors." He holds 15 patents and has authored many publications on circuits and microprocessors.