Microsoft hires semiconductor engineer who previously worked for Apple, Arm and Intel

The engineer will join Microsoft's Azure team and is expected to work on custom server chips

Microsoft reportedly enticed a veteran semiconductor designer away from Apple to work on the company’s server chip efforts.

The report comes from Bloombergwhich cites people “with knowledge of the matter” that asked not to be identified. However, a Microsoft spokesperson did confirm the hiring of Mike Filippo to the publication. Bloomberg reports that Filippo will work on processors within Microsoft’s Azure group headed by Rani Borkar. Filippo also previously worked at Arm and Intel.

The hiring of Filippo suggests Microsoft is moving ahead with its plans to make its own chips for servers, especially ones that power its Azure cloud computing services. The shift towards custom chips follows an industry trend kicked off by Alphabet’s Google and Amazon.

Previously, rumours suggested Microsoft has plans to develop custom chips for servers and, possibly, for Surface devices. While Filippo is set to join the Azure team, it’s still possible Microsoft plans to develop chips for Surface devices, similarly following a trend kickstarted by Apple.

The iPhone-maker has impressed with its custom ARM-based silicon, such as the M1 series of chips powering its new MacBooks and iPad Pro models. Google likewise moved away from using Qualcomm chips in its latest smartphones — the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro both feature the company’s ‘Tensor’ chip with a focus on machine learning.

Microsoft’s shift to custom chips could threaten the company’s relationship with Intel and AMD, both of which have long made the x86 processors that power the majority of PCs (as well as servers and, before the M1, Apple’s Mac computers). For now, x86 still has a place among Windows PCs thanks to performance advantages, legacy software and because Microsoft’s Windows on ARM efforts have been generally disappointing so far.

Besides, Microsoft has laid some groundwork for custom chips in Surface devices. The company previously worked with Qualcomm to develop custom ARM-based silicon for the Surface Pro X (the SQ1 and SQ2). However, the Pro X also exemplifies the issues with Windows on ARM and is, at least for now, not something worth buying.

Filippo’s exit also marks the loss of another high-profile engineer for Apple. He joined the iPhone-maker in 2019 as a chip architect after working as the top designer of semiconductors at Arm for a decade. Filippo was at Intel for about five years before that.

Source: Bloomberg