Qualcomm pays $ 1.4 billion for Nuvia, a server chip designer founded by former Apple executives


Nuvia has tried to change data centers by designing high performance chips that are more energy efficient like mobile processors.

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Qualcomm is betting big on a company that designs powerful but energy efficient chips for data centers – $ 1.4 billion. The company said on Wednesday it had reached a deal to acquire Nuvia, a two-year-old start-up run by former Apple chip executives.

But Qualcomm won’t just target servers with its newly acquired technology. Instead, he plans to use Nuvia processors – the brains of devices – in everything from his smartphone chips to his laptop processors and automotive components. That could mean much more powerful and battery-efficient Samsung Galaxy smartphones, Lenovo laptops and General Motors cars.

While Nuvia and Qualcomm both use Arm technology for their processors, Qualcomm license Arms cores while Nuvia designs its own. This allows the startup to customize them for better performance and energy efficiency than Qualcomm, and makes it less dependent on Arm, which is bought by Nvidia for 40 billion dollars. This is important as mobile-style chips expand into more and more areas, 5G goes mainstream, and consumers and businesses are demanding more and more battery life from their devices. Apple also designs its own Arm-based processor cores. Qualcomm had previously designed its own cores, but moved away from this strategy.

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“5G, the convergence of computing and mobile architectures, and the expansion of mobile technologies into other industries are significant opportunities for Qualcomm,” Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm’s president who will take on the role of CEO this summer, said in a press release. “Together [with Nuvia], we’re uniquely positioned to redefine IT and enable our ecosystem of partners to drive innovation and deliver a new class of products and experiences in the 5G era. “

Qualcomm has long been known as the world’s largest wireless chip maker, and counts Samsung, Apple, and virtually all of the world’s major handset manufacturers among its customers. The goal of mobile chips has long been to be as powerful as possible while consuming little power. In recent years, Qualcomm has also introduced its components in computers, cars and various other products. It is likely that the new Samsung Galaxy s21 alignment, expected launch Thursday at the company’s first Unpacked of 2021, will use Qualcomm Snapdragon 88 processors. And future phones could benefit from Nuvia’s high-performance, energy-efficient cores.

Acquisition of Nuvia by Qualcomm could also give PC Arms the boost they need. While Apple’s first Arm-based computers received rave reviews, the first Windows PCs that used Qualcomm chips were described as underpowered. That could change when the company integrates Nuvia’s technology into its processors. Already, companies like Samsung and Microsoft are using Qualcomm processors in tablets and PCs instead of powerful but battery-hungry chips from Intel.

“This acquisition and the pedigree of the team acquired by Qualcomm now position [it] moving back to fully custom-designed processor cores and proprietary processor architecture, which I think is the right technical direction for Qualcomm, ”noted Ben Bajarin, analyst at Creative Strategies.

Nuvia overall will help Qualcomm better compete with Apple, which has become a leader in chip performance. Apple’s A-series chips have long been powering its iPhones and iPads, and at the end of last year, it presented its first computers this use its own M1 processors instead of Intel chips. New computers have powerful performance, but also battery life, thanks in large part to the innovations Apple has built deep into its chips.

Nuvia’s co-founders – Gerard Williams III, Manu Gulati and John Bruno – previously held positions in Apple’s semiconductor design business before starting their own business. Williams, who is the CEO of Nuvia, led the design of every Apple chip core from the A7 to the A12X before leaving the company in March 2019. Prior to joining Apple in 2010, Williams worked for 12 years at Arm, the company whose designs are used in virtually all mobile processors. Gulati and Bruno also spent time at Google before co-founding Nuvia. The three, along with other Nuvia employees, will join Qualcomm.

“Leadership in processor performance will be essential in defining and implementing the next era of computing innovation,” Williams said in a press release. “The combination of Nuvia and Qualcomm will bring together the best talent, technology and engineering resources in the industry to create a new class of high performance computing platforms that will set the bar very high for our industry.”

The Nuvia buzz

Nuvia does not yet have a working product, but the company has caught the attention of many big players in the tech industry. In September, she raised $ 240 million from Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital, The venture capital arm of Dell, the founders of Marvell and various other companies. At the time, Nuvia said it expected to have a product in the hands of customers in 2022. In total, Nuvia raised just under $ 300 million prior to the acquisition and has more than 200 employees. .

“Nuvia was launched to reinvent silicon for a world exponentially creating more data than it can process,” Mithril founder and managing partner Ajay Royan said in a press release. After Mithril’s $ 70 million investment in September, which earned him a 12.5% ​​stake in Nuvia, Royan joined the startup’s board of directors. Its “unique approach overcomes false trade-offs between energy efficiency and chip performance,” he added.

He has also been in the crosshairs of Apple. The iPhone giant filed a lawsuit against Williams in December 2019 for breach of contract. He accused him of launching Nuvia while he was still at Apple and said he recruited his former colleagues. Williams continued in February 2020, alleging that Apple had done the same thing he accused it of – trying to recruit its employees.

Despite Williams’ legal woes, Nuvia’s efforts to design its own cores reduce its dependence – and now Qualcomm’s – on Arm at a time when uncertainty surrounds the chip designer. Nvidia, which is in the process of buying Arm, is in direct competition with many other Arm customers, including Qualcomm. Long-time chip analyst Jim McGregor of Tirias Research, noted in a blog post, that the announcement of the Nvidia-Arm deal “sent shockwaves through the Arm ecosystem.”

“Having your own custom processor could … allow Qualcomm to move on to other processor instruction sets in the future if other concerns arose about Arm under Nvidia ownership,” he said. note.

Qualcomm’s press release regarding the acquisition contained quotes from its partners applauding the purchase. They included Panos Panay, Microsoft’s product manager; Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president of platforms and ecosystems at Google; TM Roh, president and head of mobile communications at Samsung; Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun and executives from Acer, Asus, Bosch, Continental, General Motors, HMD, Honor, HP, Lenovo, LG, OnePlus, Oppo, Panasonic, Vivo, Renault, Sharp and Vivo.

“Compute performance, connectivity and power efficiency are essential ingredients that make billions of Android and Chrome OS devices shine,” said Lockheimer of Google. “The addition of Nuvia expands Qualcomm’s capabilities in all three areas, and we’re excited to see the next generation of Snapdragon with Nuvia.”

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