Today Qualcomm is announcing that the company has completed the acquisition of NUVIA, a start-up company consisting of industry veterans who were behind the creation of Apple’s high-performance CPU cores, and who were aiming to disrupt the server market with a new high-performance core called “Phoenix”.

The acquisition had been announced only several weeks ago in mid-January, so the whole process has been extremely speedy in terms of timeline.

“Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ: QCOM) today announced that its subsidiary, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., has completed its acquisition of the world-class CPU and technology design company, NUVIA for $1.4 billion before working capital and other adjustments.”

Today Qualcomm even went as far as put out a concrete roadmap for new SoCs using the newly acquired IP from Nuvia:

“The first Qualcomm Snapdragon platforms to feature Qualcomm’s new internally designed CPUs are expected to sample in the second half of 2022 and will be designed for high performance ultraportable laptops. “

Sampling in late 2022 would require a tape-out in early 2022, and a design-in essentially as soon as possible following the acquisition today. The whole process seems extremely fast and aggressive in terms of timing, pointing out that Qualcomm is putting a lot of emphasis on the project.

Qualcomm had shown a lot of positive reaction to Apple M1, I quote our interview with Alex Katouzian from back in December in terms of their reaction to the competitor design:

“[…] the laptops these days are really moving towards mobile. The camera is super important. The audio is super important. The battery life is super important. Not having a fan is super important. Portability, thinness, connectivity, always-on always-connected, all those traits of mobile are moving to the PC.

And people say, imitation is the best form of flattery. Look at look what happened with the [Apple] M1. Their product pitch is almost a duplicate of what we've been saying for the past two or three years.”

NUVIA’s prompt acquisition and immediate disclosure of plans to tackle the high-performance ultraportable laptop market could be seen as Qualcomm’s direct response to the new Apple M1 powered laptops and to compete with their high-performance CPU cores.

Article Update:

We had the opportunity to have a call with Qualcomm’s Keith Kressin, SVP and GM, Edge Cloud and Computing, answering several questions as for company’s current plans for the NUVIA team. Qualcomm views the acquisition as an important strategic addition to the company’s design capabilities, filling a gap in IP design where the company for several years now had been relying on external IP such as Arm’s Cortex cores. Keith made important note of this ability to have total in-house design control over every IP block in an SoC, allowing the company better flexibility to respond to market demands and creating competitive products.

The immediate goals for the NUVIA team will be implementing custom CPU cores into laptop-class Snapdragon SoCs running Windows, and enable the company to offer higher performance CPUs than would have been otherwise possible. When asked about plans for other product stacks and the possibility of using both in-house CPUs as well as continuing to use Arm Cortex CPU IP for lower segments, it was stated that Qualcomm will continue to evaluate every metric and choose the best fitting design that makes the most sense for that product category.

We asked the team if Qualcomm would continue to invest into NUVIA’s original plans to enter the server and enterprise market, with a response that this wasn’t the main goal or motivation of the acquisition, that Qualcomm however would very much keep that as an open option for the future, and let the NUVIA team explore those possibilities. Keith here acknowledged that it’s a tough market to crack, and that Qualcomm had made no definitive decisions yet in terms of long-term planning.

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Source: Qualcomm Press Release

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  • SarahKerrigan - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    I was really excited about Centriq - talked to some people who had spent quality time with it and all the omens seemed to be positive. I hope the Nuvia design group doesn't suffer QDT's fate.
  • Raqia - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    The cancellation was most directly related to the attempted hostile takeover of Qualcomm by Broadcom (now being run more like a asset roll-up company than tech company) led by Hock Tan and private equity firm Silver Lake after Qualcomm share prices were crippled by their licensing dispute with Apple, which was throwing its weight around in an attempt to reduce its input costs. In an attempt to rebuff this takeover, Qualcomm pledged unfortunate cost cutting measures including scrapping Centriq and laying off most of its CPU design HQ in North Carolina to appease various shareholder advisory firms who generally guide how large mutual funds holding most of the shares will vote. In the end, that didn't sway those advisory firms, and only the US govt. invoking CFIUS powers kept an essential cellular R&D house from going on the chopping block and being sold off for parts.

    It had nothing to do the technical merits of Centriq itself, and it's good to see them re-establish their once thriving CPU division in their resurgence after an almost complete legal victory over all of Apple's misleading claims. The one thing Apple did succeed in was lowering cellular licensing fees for its 5G push where it needed Qualcomm.
  • jeremyshaw - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    Do you know what happened to the NC team? Did most of them move out of state, or did someone scoop them up (like what briefly happened to AMD's Austin team with Samsung, before SARC wound down [though there is some indication people were leaving SARC long before that]).
  • cpuaddicted - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    Microsoft hired most of them to work on their ARM server processor.
  • eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    I see QC's acquisition of Nuvia also as taking out insurance against being dependant on NVIDIA/ARM for CPU core designs. Using stock ARM IP in one's SoC has upsides, but also the principal downsides of that design being available to others (Samsung, Mediathek, others), and depending on a key competitor for that. QC and NVIDIA compete more and more in AI/deep learning acceleration, autonomous driving and related driving assistants and more. And while there are legal firewalls in place to avoid IP "leakage", it's still an uncomfortable relationship. Plus, Apple being perennially ahead in perf/W by about one generation probably chafes a bit, too.
    As for the question if a Nuvia-based SoC ultra portable will see the light of day, that'll depend a lot on how much effort Microsoft puts into Windows 64 bit on ARM; with enough native 64 bit software, it'd be highly competitive with x86/x64 solutions in the low and very low power space (below 10 W and below 5 W); Apple's M1 demonstrated what is possible with a ARM-based design and native OS support.
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    The greater risk to the development of ARM cores is from NVIDIA not buying ARM, not from NVIDIA buying it. ARM is in flux right now and so its future is unsure. It can't be assumed that ARM, let's say post IPO, is the same as ARM under SoftBank, who increased R&D beyond what an independent ARM answering directly to shareholders likely would be able to maintain. The reason Qualcomm doesn't want the merger to happen is because they don't want a (mostly future) competitor to be stronger than it otherwise would be. If Qualcomm were really worried about ARM itself under NVIDIA then they wouldn't be further committing to the ARM ecosystem by buying Nuvia.
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    Let me add more context to my comment. Qualcomm, if you remember, used to develop their own ARM cores. Lots of companies did. Eventually ARM's own cores took over much of the SoC market as the companies found it cost-ineffective to duplicate ARM's efforts under SoftBank. Now Qualcomm no longer has the team or the up-to-date designs it once had to develop their own cores. Seeing the possibility that they will need to begin doing it once again (because ARM is in flux and may not be investing so much in CPU core R&D as they did under SoftBank) and seeing Nuvia available, which presumably has cores that impressed them, they decided to buy Nuvia rather than start over again.
  • Silver5urfer - Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - link

    They need to be doing custom core design. Last time they did was during 820 because of the 810 disaster they had to control else it was blowing them apart add the 64bit too, 805 was a super fast CPU but it was 32bit. Then they moved all those custom designers to develop Centriq which was heralded to peak by Cloudflare. It was all axed and dissolved.

    Now there's no custom design anymore, Qcomm will only do a custom core design if there's a need, right now I simply do not see the need. They always change a few aspects of the ARM reference design just like Huawei Kirin and now recent Samsung Exynos, Samsung tried but failed so many times as we know.

    The reason they do not is simply because Android powered flagships do not suffer any User experience jank / poor framerates or anything vs an iPhone with far more SPEC boasted A series.
  • Ppietra - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    If no company comes out with an ARM SoC that can compete with Intel on desktops PCs, then I doubt things will change much in terms of native ARM software availability, which will render ARM Windows computers a small niche in the market for a long time.
  • webdoctors - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    Some ARM Chromebooks were supposed to, but at least Samsung's offerings there were pretty weak.

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