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The brains and brawn behind Apple’s new iPad is the A4, a new “Apple designed” system on a chip (SOC).* The SOC was most likely designed by P.A. Semi, a microprocessor company acquired by Apple in April of 2008. The P.A. Semi team includes 100+ engineers who specialize in designing low-power consumption mircoprocessors.

Update: According to a Feb 8, 2010 article in VentureBeat PA Semi didn’t design the A4. A VentureBeat source claims the A4 design was done by Apple’s VLSI team. Seems like semantics to me as everyone (PA Semi, VLSI, et. al.) is now on the same Apple team and likely collaborated extensively on the A4 SOC.*

The iPad is the first in what may be a long line of Apple mobile devices to include Apple-built SOCs.* In a must read post today, Daring Fireball editor, John Gruber, pays special attention to the new A4 SOC. Here are a few excerpts:

This [the Apple A4] is a huge deal. I got about 20 blessed minutes of time using the iPad demo units Apple had at the event today, and if I had to sum up the device with one word, that word would be “fast” … It is fast, fast, fast.

Web pages render so fast it was hard to believe. After using the iPhone so much for two and a half years, I’ve become accustomed to web pages rendering (relative to the Mac) slowly. On the iPad, they seem to render nearly instantly. (802.11n Wi-Fi helps too.)

Everyone I spoke to in the press room was raving first and foremost about the speed. None of us could shut up about it. It feels impossibly fast. And our next thought: What happens if Apple has figured out a way to make a CPU like A4 that fits in an iPhone? If they pull that off for this year’s new iPhone, look out.

I mentioned this year-ago quote from Apple COO Tim Cook the other day, but it’s apt here, too. Cook told BusinessWeek, “We believe in the simple, not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.”

Apple now owns and controls their own mobile CPUs. There aren’t many companies in the world that can say that. And from what I saw today, Apple doesn’t just own and control a mobile CPU, they own and control the hands-down best mobile CPU in the world.

Read John Gruber’s full post > here

Another must read > The Mysterious Apple A4 Chip – Where’s MSFT’s and GOOG’s Chip?

*Several tech sites are speculating that Apple’s A4 SOC is based on central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processing unit (GPU) technology that Apple has licensed from ARM.

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