Key iOS Chip Architect Gerard Williams III Departs Apple

Gerard Williams III, lead designer of Apple's custom iOS chips from A7 to A12X, has departed the company, according to CNET. While no indication of a change has been made on his LinkedIn profile, it does offer a glimpse into his design prowess.

Williams' presence goes back even further into Apple device history, as he served as the technical lead for the Cortex-A8 design, ARM's first superscalar core design and the heart of the iPhone 3GS. His role evidently grew over the years, with CPU architecture responsibilities eventually evolving into ownership of the entire system on chip (SoC), which houses CPU, graphics, image processing, secure enclave, motion, and AI cores.

A look at his patent portfolio shows he was a key force behind Apple's foray into mixed CPU core clusters starting with the A10 Fusion chip, and transitioning into full heterogeneous cores with the A11 Bionic. His body of work also includes an emphasis on cache, memory, and energy efficiency. These have become key differentiating features as seen in performance benchmarking from sites such as AnandTech.

He came to Apple with a splash, as the A7 was Apple's first 64-bit CPU core. This design arrived on the market over a full year before competitors like Qualcomm and Samsung could respond and largely cemented the technical prowess of the SoC team Apple had created.

If confirmed, his departure would follow the more well-known CPU architect Jim Keller, who was part of Apple's acquisition of PA Semi. More recently, Apple's SoC team lost its lead Manu Gulati, whose vacated role was assumed by Williams. Apple has had some success at retaining key technical executives, however, as the recent rumors of SVP of Hardware Technologies Johnny Srouji's candidacy for Intel CEO fizzled out. Apple also managed to keep Bob Mansfield despite having announced his retirement.

As for potential destinations, Intel has become the number one destination for high-profile technical leads, as they have lured many key AMD executives, as well as former Apple lead Jim Keller. Intel has been absorbing members of the press as well as it seeks to reclaim its technical leadership in the industry, taking on long-tenured PC Perspective writers, including editor-in-chief Ryan Shrout.

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11 months ago
He was only staying on so he could get a employee discount on his AirPower, and whelp.... Seriously though, I hope that he is moving on to something great. Thank you for all the great chips!
Rating: 65 Votes
11 months ago

Architects are a lot less important in CPU design than you’d think. (Not that they aren’t important, but everybody is replaceable, and Apple’s advantage is primarily in design, not architecture).

totally agreed "everybody is replaceable"
so why some people think Tim is not replaceable
he should be the first one out the door

people that love services will love apple
people that love computers, devices etc
might not be so happy with apple lately
while many will still defend apple, others like me will simply call it like it is
no innovation and abandonware
that includes the Mac Pro and also let's promise and announce and not deliver air power
I think I said enough but I think I have some more things to say
let me just get it off my chest

can't wait to get rid of Tim, ever since he became apple CEO
the keynotes sucks big time, sorry but he doesn't have any charisma, he doesn't connect
at least not with me, apple is not like it used to be

hope someone comes alone that can turn this around
we need someone cool who also talks and understand technology
Tim just talk about percentage and numbers
sorry but that is the way I feel
nothing personal Tim, just business
[doublepost=1553964230][/doublepost]the reason why that man left is obvious
also the timing might be an indication
apple doesn't care about hardware anymore
Rating: 43 Votes
11 months ago
Time to bring in Gerard Williams IV.
Rating: 36 Votes
11 months ago
This really is the worst week for Apple in recent memory
Rating: 35 Votes
11 months ago

This really is the worst week for Apple in recent memory

Please, give me a break.

You guys overreact so hard.
Rating: 31 Votes
11 months ago
Too bad. People like Williams should stay. Fossils like Ive should go.
Rating: 28 Votes
11 months ago

Why? If Apple was going this way you can bet they would have already done a significant amount of the work involved. They might even have actual processors running in their labs right now. You don't just get up one morning and decide to make a desktop CPU and start cranking them out a few months later.

Based on your history in the industry, I'm curious if you could provide a list of the people involved from top to bottom and what their responsibilities would be. Also how many people are at each stage. Apple obviously has 100's of engineers working on processors, so I'm really curious how their tasks would be broken down.

I don’t know exactly how Apple has it broken down, but since many of the people there are from AMD or from Intrinsity (which was EVSX which was Exponential’s Texas office), and since I worked at AMD and Exponential, I can guess that it’s staffed more like those places and less like Intel.

Typically you have an architecture team that is responsible for both the high level architecture (how many cores? What kind of external buses? How much cache? How many pipelines? What should the pipelines do?) and for creating a model (typically in a C-based language, or in Verilog) that simulates the design at a high level. They also do performance analysis, etc. (Hint: every proposed change always makes 10% difference).

I’ve been on teams where there is NO single person in charge of that (e.g. Athlon 64) and teams where there are 1 or 2. The full team usually has maybe 10 or 12 people, working on multiple chips at a time.

Then you have a global design team. This team is often responsible for global floorplanning (how big should the blocks be? Where should they be? Where do the on-chip buses go? What should the cell library look like? What do the power rails look like? How big is the chip? What’s the power budget? Etc.).

I’ve done a little of the first job, and a lot of the second job. Global design usually involves a handful of people. Usually these people are also working on other things, too.

They you have physical design. These people translate the architects vision for the various blocks into the actual circuits. We always did this almost entirely by hand (i.e. we didn’t use synopsys design compiler). I wrote many tools to make this easier to do. It involves deciding what logic cells to use to implement the logic, what sizes they should be, and where they should be located. We also have to get the wires in the right places to connect them, add buffers and repeaters, make sure we meet the circuit timing and power requirements, etc. I did a ton of this. In a given core there would be maybe 10 “top level blocks” (e.g. integer-execution, instructions decode, instruction fetch, floating point execute, load/store, etc). Typically one person is in charge of each (I’ve been that person a lot). Within each top level block there are typically multiple sub-blocks. For example. Integer execution may have a multiplier block, adder/shifter blocks, register file block, etc. Each block may have a person in charge. So the entire physical design team is often two dozen or three dozen people.

Then you have people responsible for actually massaging the chip into its final form, layout the polygons in standard cells etc. That could be a half dozen or dozen people.

You also have design verification people who make sure that the chip is logically correct, etc. Another dozen, say.

Again, people are often working on multiple chips at a time, so the numbers can be misleading.
Rating: 25 Votes
11 months ago

Architects are a lot less important in CPU design than you’d think. (Not that they aren’t important, but everybody is replaceable, and Apple’s advantage is primarily in design, not architecture).

When MagSafe left, Apple replaced it with a Thunderbolt Port. I was not impressed.
Rating: 23 Votes
11 months ago
I wonder if these people leaving are going to different companies or just retiring from work.
Rating: 23 Votes
11 months ago
Apple is clearly doomed.

A senior staff member, who nobody has ever heard of before, who performs a job that nobody really understands, is suddenly a “big problem” for Apple?

BTW, I think it’s safe to say he oversaw the A7 to A13, since the A13 is essentially completed and Apple is likely getting samples made before moving into mass production for the next iPhone. In fact, he probably had plenty to do with the A14 as well.
Rating: 21 Votes

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