Qualcomm has announced the acquisition of NUVIA, a startup that consists of some major industry veterans. The deal is valued at $1.4 billion before working capital and other adjustments, Qualcomm said.
The acquisition (via AnandTech) could have a big impact on Qualcomm’s future as it looks to further compete in the mobile, PC, and server spaces. NUVIA has been working on designing its own high-performance custom CPU cores for servers based on the ARM architecture, so the acquisition could also see Qualcomm re-enter the server market.
Qualcomm’s points to the imminent explosion of 5G as one of the biggest reasons for the acquisition. “5G is further accelerating the convergence of mobility and computing,” Qualcomm said. “The acquisition of NUVIA builds on Qualcomm Technologies’ Snapdragon technology leadership, delivering step-function improvements in CPU performance and power efficiency to meet the demands of next-generation 5G computing.”
Originally founded in February 2019, NUVIA is staffed by well-known industry veterans, including Gerard Williams II, who was the chief architect of Apple’s CPU designs from the Lightning core to the A13, an ARM-based system on a chip introduced with the iPhone 11 and iPhone SE. Other industry veterans among NUVIA’s ranks include John Bruno and Manu Gulati.
“CPU performance leadership will be critical in defining and delivering on the next era of computing innovation,” said Gerard Williams CEO of NUVIA. “The combination of NUVIA and Qualcomm will bring the industry’s best engineering talent, technology and resources together to create a new class of high-performance computing platforms that set the bar for our industry. We couldn’t be more excited for the opportunities ahead.”
Qualcomm’s acquisition of NUVIA could potentially see the company develop future Snapdragon chipsets with custom CPU cores that approach the speeds achieved by Apple. Currently, most Android smartphones and tablets have chipsets with CPU cores based on ARM’s Cortex IP, a CPU microarchitecture design that ARM licenses out to chipset vendors. Qualcomm, Samsung, MediaTek, and also HiSilicon (Huawei) — meaning basically all the big mobile processor vendors apart from Apple — currently design chipsets that use ARM Cortex CPU cores instead of custom designs.
Apple’s custom CPU designs are industry-leading, and the company’s recent release of the M1 chip has turned the PC industry on its head. In contrast, the CPU performance offered by competitors like the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2, Snapdragon 888, Exynos 2100, Kirin 9000, etc. pales in comparison, even when using ARM’s latest and great Cortex-X1 CPU.
As pointed out by AnandTech’s Andrei Frumusanu on Twitter, Qualcomm may face difficulties integrating a custom CPU design into a big.LITTLE setup. big.LITTLE refers to the ARM computing architecture in which a cluster of high-performance cores offloads less demanding tasks to a cluster of lower-performance cores; this is crucial to improve battery life on smartphones which usually aren’t doing a lot of intensive processing all the time. This is less important to have on a device with a bigger battery like a laptop, though.
Qualcomm said that the acquisition will take computing performance to a new level “and drive new capabilities for products that serve multiple industries.” The deal is still subject to regulatory approval, but it’ll be exciting to see what Qualcomm and NUVIA come up with.