Qualcomm acquires startup Nuvia from ex-Apple chip designers for its own cores

Qualcomm has reached an agreement with Nuvia for an acquisition. Qualcomm is paying $1.4 billion for the start-up and wants to implement Nuvia’s CPU technology in its Snapdragon socs. The founders, prominent chip designers, will join Qualcomm.

With the acquisition, Qualcomm will again use its own cores in its Snapdragon socs. Now the company licenses the Cortex designs from Arm. The new cores designed by Nuvia also use the Arm architecture, but they are custom designs, just like Apple does with its socs.

Qualcomm says in the announcement that it wants to implement Nuvia’s CPU technology in its own chips. Qualcomm already makes its own GPUs, DSPs and ISPs. The new CPU cores should find their way into socs for smartphones, laptops, network equipment, digital cockpits and driver assistance systems for cars. It is not yet clear when the CPU cores designed by Nuvia will be used in Qualcomm-socs.

Performance Claims Nuvia

Nuvia was founded in early 2019 and last year showed performance claims of its Arm cores, which were still focused on servers at the time. Qualcomm still uses Cortex cores in its recently announced Snapdragon 888-soc. Socs with Nuvia cores can be expected next year at the earliest.

It is not known whether Qualcomm also has plans to start making server chips again. The company previously attempted this with its Centriq platform, which used its own cores, but Qualcomm has all but stopped doing so. Qualcomm said in 2018 that few companies can make the switch to Arm chips for servers.

The three Nuvia founders will join Qualcomm after the acquisition, as will the Nuvia employees. That is part of the deal made. The acquisition still has to be approved by regulatory authorities, but because it is a relatively small acquisition of a start-up, it is probably a formality.

Prominent chip designers from Apple

With the acquisition of Nuvia, Qualcomm brings in leading chip designers who have proven their worth at other companies. Nuvia was founded by three former Apple employees who also worked at other chip companies.

Nuvia CEO Gerard Williams III began his career in 1995 as an intern at Intel. He later worked for Texas Instruments and Arm and then Apple. Manu Gulati worked at AMD, Broadcom, Apple and Google. He was appointed lead soc architect at Google in 2017. John Bruno initially worked at GPU maker ATI and later at AMD on APUs. He then spent five years at Apple and a year at Google’s hardware team.

According to Forbes analyst Patrick Moorhead, it’s likely that Gerard Williams was the CPU architect at Apple who worked on the foundation of the M1 chip, which Apple is now putting in Macs. Manu Gulati is said to have been the soc architect at Apple. There can be several years between the design of a chip and its actual release.

18 tech companies support takeover

Qualcomm has discussed the acquisition with many of its customers; the announcement features supporting quotes from companies such as Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Acer, ASUS, HMD, Lenovo, LG, OnePlus, OPPO, Sony and Xiaomi. A total of eighteen companies provide statements about the acquisition, including car manufacturers such as Renault and GM. The companies say they are excited about Nuvia’s addition to Qualcomm.

It is common for companies to give other companies the floor to say something about a collaboration, but eighteen quotes from prominent customers in a news item about an acquisition is striking. It seems that Qualcomm has already extensively discussed the plans for the use of Nuvia cores.

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