The large acquisitions of technology companies that marked the year 2020 look set to continue this year as well Qualcomm announces that the company will buy the processor company Nuvia for as much as 1.4 billion USD or 11.6 billion kronor. At first glance, the deal may seem unexpectedly large as Nuvia has not yet launched its first sharp processor design, but the company’s lineup of well-known industry veterans is an indication of Qualcomm’s future.
Nuvia was founded as late as February 2019 and was not formally unveiled until later that year. The reason why the company has attracted the industry’s attention is that the workforce consists of industry veterans Gerard Williams III, John Bruno and Manu Gulati. Gerard Williams III is behind the development of Apple’s ARM processors up to and including A13 Bionic, and his work is thus also the basis for the company’s ARM processors for computers.
John Bruno and Manu Gulati both come from Google where they were responsible for system architecture in integrated processors (SoC). Together with other industry veterans, they form the company Nuvia, which during the past year worked on a new type of processor that goes by the code name “Phoenix”. In addition to being designed for high-performance server systems, the details of the processor are shrouded in obscurity. The fact that Qualcomm chooses to buy the company for such large sums indicates an investment in returning to its own server processors.
Qualcomm has previously invested in both proprietary server processors and its own core design based on ARM’s instruction sets. The server processors in the Centriq family were launched in 2017 but did not succeed in establishing themselves in the server or data center market. Qualcomm’s investments in proprietary architectures have since shifted to licensing ARM’s Cortex cores. The fact that Nuvia claims to achieve a balance between energy efficiency and raw performance with its own processor type can give Qualcomm the opportunity to return to the server market.
That a startup company claims to be far superior to the competition is nothing new, but in the case of Nuvia, the company’s veterans have a proven history of developing processor architectures with industry-leading performance per watt. The success of the M1, Apple’s first ARM processor for computers, is likely to be a strong motivation for the high purchase price. Nuvia has not revealed which instruction set the company’s architectures are based on, but a wording in Qualcomm’s press release points to ARM.
NUVIA CPUs are expected to be integrated across Qualcomm Technologies’ broad portfolio of products, powering flagship smartphones, next-generation laptops, and digital cockpits, as well as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, extended reality and infrastructure networking solutions.
Qualcomm announces that Nuvia’s processor technology will be integrated into a number of product segments, including mobile phones and laptops. Qualcomm’s current processors for phones and computers use licensed ARM cortex cores on the ARMv8 instruction set. If Nuvia’s processor designers are to take place in these product types, they either need to be based on ARM, or have the opportunity to effectively emulate or reinterpret ARM code.
Another aspect that may be behind Qualcomm’s high purchase price is that the company, through the acquisition of Nuvia, becomes less dependent on ARM’s Cortex designers. If Nvidia’s acquisition of ARM is approved, Qualcomm will be dependent on how Nvidia chooses to manage ARM technology in the future. By developing its own processors, Qualcomm will have better opportunities to control processor development for both consumer products, servers and data centers in the future.
As usual, the deal must be approved by US authorities before it goes through.
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