Apple snags top chip designer from Samsung

Thursday brings another development in the Apple-Samsung rivalry: one of Samsung’s top chip designers, Jim Mergard, known throughout his industry, is leaving to work for Apple(s AAPL), the Wall Street Journal reports. Mergard had recently moved over to Samsung from AMD(s AMD) after a long career, where he was a VP and chief engineer.

Both Samsung and Apple have been looking to improve their chip teams. What Mergard is known for — he was one of the people behind AMD’s Brazos chip for “low-end portable computers” — seems well suited to Apple’s focus on low-power chips for mobile devices.

Apple buys a heck of a lot of silicon every year — by some accounts the company is the largest buyer in the world. A lot of what it buys — mobile chips for the iPhone and iPad — has historically been from Samsung, which has played the role of crucial supplier partner and competitor to Apple. A high-profile hire of someone like Mergard directly from a competitor no doubt increases that tension. It’s not quite as awkward as convincing a jury that your valued partner owes you $1 billion for patent infringement, but it’s still another sign that Apple isn’t treading lightly when it comes to competing with Samsung.