Adobe Considers Manufacturing Custom Processors

Intel must be starting to feel like Frito-Lay. It had an entire market to itself for a while, but now that other companies have started to sense weakness, it's hard to find someone that isn't planning to make its own chips. The latest would-be competitor? Well, according to Axios, it's Adobe.

That's right: the company that makes the software that creative professionals have to sell their organs to pay for each month is reportedly thinking of making its own processors. Or at least licensing Arm's designs so it can better integrate the software it's known for with the hardware on which it runs.

Adobe certainly isn't the first company to consider making--or actually make--its own chips. Axios noted that Apple, Google, Samsung, and Amazon already do just that. (And speculation runs rampant among the Apple community about if or when the company will decide to ditch Intel for good.)

Those companies don't make their own chips for the fun of it. They do it because it gives them more control over their products, rather than forcing them to make their software for standard hardware. The idea is that this leads to better performance while also reducing dependence on outside companies. Imagine that right now every product is like a flavor dust applied to a Lay’s chip. Eventually, someone was going to make their own spuds from scratch.

From that perspective, Adobe making its own chips would make sense. Its software is an ecosystem unto itself—there are people out there whose livelihoods are directly affected by their proficiency with and performance in Adobe’s creative tools. (Sorry, sorry, the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription service. Branding!) Improving performance with custom silicon would help those people and, of course, give Adobe yet another way to make itself all-but-indispensable to creators.

But there are a lot of unknown factors here. Companies don't just license Arm tech and release products with custom chips overnight. They have to hire people who know how to design processors, build the chips, optimize the software for those chips, and then follow a thousand other steps on a process we’re already oversimplifying. Does Adobe plan to hire those people? Could it win in a bidding war against, well, any of the other companies we've mentioned so far in this article?

Then there's the matter of selling the chips. Facebook, Google, and Amazon primarily use their own chips in their data centers. Even though their usage affects hundreds of millions of people, then, the vast majority of them don't care. Meanwhile, Apple and Samsung use their chips to sell their products. Those are very different scenarios even if they both start with custom silicon. The former is suited to servers that only have to support a predefined software suite. The latter has to support countless apps, utilities, and other products over which the companies have relatively little control.

It's not clear what approach Adobe might attempt to emulate in that sense. Would it make a bunch of custom chips to use in a server and then off-load compute-intensive tasks to the cloud? Or would it try to convince people to buy a processor specifically because they need Photoshop to run faster? The former is reasonable; the latter could prove to be a hard sell even for Adobe.

Best not to fret too much about it. Axios quoted Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis as saying: “Do we need to become an ARM licensee? I don't have the answer, but it is something we are going to have to pay attention to." Parasnis was bullish on Arm—the company changed its branding a few years back, folks, it's time to accept it—but not clear on what that meant for Adobe. Probably the responses to articles like this one will help inform the company's decision.

As for us? We’re just the taste testers. You put a chip in front of us and we’re going to eat it...erm, uh, run it through a rigorous series of tests to determine how it compares to its counterparts. Definitely the second one. Tom’s Hardware has not consumed any processors. (To our knowledge.)