Rumor: Apple working on ARM-based Mac variants with larger trackpad built into keyboard

Mac mini mid-2011 (Apple Thunderbolt Display, MagicTrackPad)

MacBidouille is the source of an interesting new rumor [translation] that Apple is currently experimenting with new ARM-powered Mac variants that include a Magic trackpad built into the system’s keyboard. The company is also reportedly working on a new version of OS X that will be compatible with these ARM machines.

According to MacBidouille’s sources, Apple is developing three new machines with this configuration: the aforementioned iMac and Mac mini as well as a 13″ MacBook, presumably a MacBook Air. The iMac and notebook are both said to have “4 or 8″ quad-core arm64 processors, while the Mac mini has only four.

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Apple begins testing TSMC A6 processor with 28-nanometer process, coming Q2 next year

Taiwan Economic News is reporting that local Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd (TSMC), the company slated to supply Apple with the A6 processor after a shift from Samsung, has begun trials of the new chip made with the company’s “newest 28-nanometer process and 3D stacking technologies”. However, dont expect to see the A6 in a new iteration of the iPad anytime soon, as the report suggests the processor wont be officially unveiled until Q2 of next year, at the earliest.

Included in the report:

TSMC has applied its newest 28-nanometer process and 3D stacking technologies to produce the next-generation processor A6, which is based on the ARM architecture and will undergo TSMC’s cutting-edge silicon interposer and bump on trace (BOT) methodologies. Industry insiders said that the manufacturing will help to pump considerable momentum into TSMC’s business growth starting next year, though the company has yet to comment on the deal for the moment.

This contradicts an earlier report thru Reuters which stated that test production had already begun in July.  Both reports agreed that the final A6 processors would be complete and ready for iPad 3 in early 2012.  EETimes had reported the move back in March which was said to involve Apple’s current A5 chip but that never materialized.

An Apple switch to TSMC would obviously be a huge blow to ‘frenemy’ Samsung who currently makes the iPad CPU, DRAM and supplies Flash storage as well.

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Beefier chips as Apple bolsters in-house silicon wizards

Apple’s A5 chip has debuted with iPad 2, but the company’s already hard at work designing the A6, contemplating the A7 and thinking about the A8. Apple added more chip experts to their in-house silicon team and poached veteran engineers from Samsung and ARM earlier this month. A LinkedIn profile belonging to chip expert Eunseok Ji reveals he recently came on board as a senior Apple engineer, the role he played for years at rival Samsung. He counts advanced semiconductor skills in his profile, hard core stuff such as logic design, DFT, silicon testing and hands-on experiences on post-silicon bring-up and debugging of complex mixed-signal design for system-on-a-chip (SoC) solutions.

Why antagonize your silicon manufacturer by poaching such an expert? Okay, Samsung is a frenemy. But why lure an engineer away from ARM? This fabless semiconductor firm makes designs that power Apple’s iOS gadgets and the vast majority of mobile gear, for that matter. ARM’s Steve Ravet, who also joined Apple in March as an SOC prototyping engineer, is a twelve-year veteran who worked as a system verification engineer at Compaq and verification engineer at International Meta Systems prior to joining ARM as an electrical engineer.

His competencies include CPU validation and design, focused on FPGA emulation, silicon and board bringup, top level simulation and debug for ARM microprocessor cores and SOCs. I’m just speculating here and your guess is as good as mine, but I think you’ll agree such a hiring spree might be a tell-tale sign of a greater number of unique hardware features in upcoming Apple gadgets. Look no further than Apple’s current lineup of iOS devices.

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