Microsoft hires key Apple engineer to work on custom chips

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Microsoft has lured a veteran semiconductor designer from Apple as it seeks to expand its own server chip efforts, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mike Filippo will work on processors within Microsoft’s Azure group, led by Rani Borkar, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the move has not been announced. A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed the hiring of Filippo, who also worked at Arm and Intel.

The move suggests Microsoft is accelerating its efforts to build local chips for its servers, which power Azure cloud services. The focus on custom chips follows similar efforts by Alphabet’s Google and Amazon, Microsoft’s biggest cloud rivals.

The change threatens to undermine longtime processor partners from Microsoft, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, which currently supply chips for Azure servers. Intel fell 0.3% on Wednesday’s news, while AMD rose 0.1%.

For Apple, Filippo’s exit marks another loss of a top engineer. He joined Apple in 2019 as a chip architect after being a top semiconductor designer at Arm for a decade. He was at Intel for about five years before that. Filippo is credited with advancing the capabilities of Arm’s underlying technologies in phones and other devices.

Bloomberg reported in 2020 that Microsoft was working on custom chips for its servers and, possibly, Surface devices. The Surface line, which includes personal computers and tablets, uses chips from Intel, Qualcomm and other vendors. If Microsoft ends up using custom silicon in these devices, it will mimic an approach Apple has taken in recent years. Meta Platforms, formerly Facebook, is also working on its own semiconductors.

In October, Microsoft announced a job opening for developing a system-on-chip, or SoC, another sign that the company is becoming more aggressive in this area. Responsibilities include managing a “technical team to drive the architecture to deliver the product,” according to the post.

In 2019, Microsoft launched the Surface Pro X, which used an Arm processor and a version of Windows designed for those chips. The product was mostly seen as a failure, but Microsoft has improved its Arm-based offerings in recent years and co-engineered a chip with Qualcomm.

The global chip shortage prompted tech giants to develop their own components, but companies like Apple were already well along in the process. In October, Apple announced its first professional-grade custom Mac chips, part of a years-long campaign to replace Intel processors.

Intel, meanwhile, is scrambling to regain its lead in processors. The company recently hired another Apple chip executive, Jeff Wilcox, to oversee its design engineering.

Microsoft Philanthropies supports select Seattle Times journalism projects.

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