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Is Tesla Making Their Own CPUs?

Is Tesla Making Their Own CPUs?
by Daniel Nenni on 05-03-2016 at 4:00 pm

 One of the benefits of administering a leading semiconductor design enablement portal is that I get to see the traffic patterns then try and figure out what’s behind them. For example, a Cupertino domain has been reading all of our automotive content very thoroughly. We also get hits by Google.com, Amazon.com, and dozens of other Fortune 1000 domains from around the world that are not traditional semiconductor companies. Another more recent SemiWiki fan is a car company here in Silicon Valley who is consuming our semiconductor design enablement content. So you have to ask yourself, “Self, what in the heck is going on here?”

In case you missed the news from Tesla back in January:

Jim Keller is joining Tesla as Vice President of Autopilot Hardware Engineering. Jim will bring together the best internal and external hardware technologies to develop the safest, most advanced autopilot systems in the world.

How good is Jim Keller? Jim does not have a LinkedIn profile but he does have a wiki page, that’s how good he is! Jim is a bit famous here in Silicon Valley for his work on the DEC Alpha, the AMD K7 and K8 architectures, and the ARM based Apple A4 and A5 SoCs. Jim and his team landed at Apple as a result of the P.A. Semi acquisition which you can read about in our book “Mobile Unleashed” chapter 7 “from Cupertino”:

Dan Dobberpuhl, of StrongARM fame, formed fabless firm P. A. Semi in 2003 with industry veterans including Jim Keller and Pete Bannon. They embarked on research of Power Architecture, creating the PA6T core and the highly integrated PWRficient family of processors. PWRficient featured an advanced crossbar interconnect along with aggressive clock gating and power management. Its near-term roadmap had single and dual 2 GHz 64-bit cores. The approach delivered similar performance to an IBM PowerPC 970 – the Apple G5 – at a fraction of the power consumption. This made PWRficient well suited for laptops, or embedded applications… Unexpectedly, Apple bought P. A. Semi and many of its 150 employees in April 2008 for $278M…

At Apple and P.A. Semi:

Keller was most recently a director in the platform architecture group at Apple focusing on mobile products, where he architected several generations of mobile processors, including the chip families found in millions of Apple iPads, iPhones, iPods and Apple TVs. Prior to Apple, Keller was vice president of design for P.A. Semi, a fabless semiconductor design firm specializing in low-power mobile processors that was acquired by Apple in 2008. While there, he led the team responsible for building a powerful networking System on a Chip.

In August of 2012, Jim went back to AMD to build a team and develop an ARM-based server processor (Opteron) which has just started shipping. Next, Jim’s team did a refresh of the x86 core architecture (Zen) which is being built on GF 14nm due out later this year. The latest data points (from SemiWiki and LinkedIn) show that quite a few members of his team from AMD have joined Jim at Tesla, which should make NVIDIA quite nervous since Tesla cars currently use NVIDIA chips.

And that ends the latest episode of “As the Chip Turns”.


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