Today Qualcomm has announced they will be acquiring NUVIA for $1.4bn – acquiring the start-up company consisting of industry veterans which originally were behind the creation of Apple’s high-performance CPU cores. The transaction has important ramifications for Qualcomm’s future in high-performance computing both in mobile, as well as laptop segment, with a possible re-entry into the server market.

NUVIA was originally founded in February 2019 and coming out of stealth-mode in November of that year. The start-up was founded by industry veterans Gerard Williams III, John Bruno and Manu Gulati, having extensive industry experience at Google, Apple, Arm, Broadcom and AMD.

Gerard Williams III in particular was the chief architect for over a decade at Apple, having been the lead architect on all of Apple’s CPU designs up to the Lightning core in the A13 – with the newer Apple A14 and Apple M1 Firestorm cores possibly also having been in the pipeline under his direction.

NUVIA had been able to recruit a lot of top industry talent from various CPU design teams across the industry, and had planned to enter the high-performance computing and enterprise market with a new server SoC with a new CPU core dubbed “Phoenix”.

NUVIA particularly had made aggressive claims about how their design would be able to significantly outperform the competition both in raw performance and power efficiency once it came to market – usually such claims are always to be taken with scepticism, however due to the members of the design team and talent having proven themselves in the form of Apple’s very successful CPU microarchitectures, there’s a lot more weight and credibility to them compared to other start-ups.

As a new entity in the industry, the company always had an uphill battle against the established giants, so even though they could have had talent and the technology, it’s not a guarantee that they would have been successful in business. I admit that the during the initial company announcement back in 2019 I did think to myself that it would have been possible that the team is looking to get acquired by another big player, which ended up happening today.

Qualcomm’s Gain and Possibilities

Qualcomm’s purchase of the whole company for 1.4bn USD can very much be seen as an endorsement to NUVIA’s talent and claims, and could mark an important shift in the industry, vastly expanding the possibilities of the combined entities compared to as if they were separate entities.

From Qualcomm’s perspective, it’s a bit of a bitter-sweet deal that follows the company’s failed Centriq business which back in 2018 had taken critical blows and cancellations as the company had to cut costs and lay off significant amount of people amongst their data-center unit.

At the time, Qualcomm was still maintaining a custom CPU microarchitecture team for server SoCs, having a few years earlier abandoned their efforts at custom CPUs for mobile, given Arm’s more power efficient and better PPA (Performance, Power, Area) advantages of licensable Cortex cores. Eventually the design teams fizzled out with the years, leaving Qualcomm no longer having the capability to design custom CPU microarchitectures, on top of them also never being all that competitive.

Qualcomm now acquiring NUVIA gives them the possibility to take advantage of the start-up’s early work in the server space, possibly reinvigorating the company’s ambitions in the server space, and giving them a second shot at the market. It’s to be noted however that in today’s press release about the acquisition there had been no mention of server or enterprise plans.

Furthermore, the move also has larger repercussions in the consumer space, with Qualcomm claiming that NUVIA CPU designs are expected to be deployed in flagship mobile SoCs and next generation laptops, as well as other industrial applications such as digital cockpits and ADAS.

In essence, Qualcomm is looking to leverage NUVIA’s CPUs to replace Arm’s current Cortex CPU IP and gain a competitive advantage in terms of performance. This is an important point of the transaction as it means that Qualcomm has confidence that NUVIA’s CPU designs and roadmap would be competitive or exceed that of Arm’s offerings, and put forth the money and investment towards those goals.

There’s also two more aspects in Qualcomm’s consideration for the purchase: With Nvidia’s plans to acquire Arm Holdings announced last September, this would give Qualcomm an important level of independence and safety in regards to their future product roadmaps – just in case Nvidia would make substantial changes to the CPU IP licensing model.

Secondly, Apple’s recent move to ditch x86 in favour of their own Arm-based Apple Silicon SoCs, starting with the new Apple M1 and planning to make a complete product transition in the coming 2 years has greatly pushed the Arm ecosystem forward. While Qualcomm to date has released laptop-specific Snapdragon designs, they still rely on Arm’s Cortex CPU IP and currently cannot compete with Apple’s silicon. In essence, Qualcomm could be viewing this as a large long-term bet at an attempt to establish themselves as the de facto Arm silicon supplier in this market segment, and alternative to Apple Silicon products. NUVIA in the past had commented that this would have been a possible long-term goal beyond their server space focus, however the acquisition by Qualcomm now vastly accelerate any such plans.

Press release:

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 13, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ: QCOM) today announced that its subsidiary, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire NUVIA for approximately $1.4 billion before working capital and other adjustments. The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approval under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976, as amended. 

NUVIA comprises a proven world-class CPU and technology design team, with industry-leading expertise in high performance processors, Systems on a Chip (SoC) and power management for compute-intensive devices and applications. The addition of NUVIA CPUs to Qualcomm Technologies' already leading mobile graphics processing unit (GPU), AI engine, DSP and dedicated multimedia accelerators will further extend the leadership of Qualcomm Snapdragon platforms, and positions Snapdragon as the preferred platform for the future of connected computing.


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.


As part of the transaction, NUVIA founders Gerard Williams III, Manu Gulati and John Bruno, and their employees will be joining Qualcomm.

"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."

In essence, the acquisition of NUVIA greatly increases Qualcomm’s future prospective in the mobile and consumer laptop market, with possible long-term positive repercussions for the company’s product’s competitiveness. We’re looking forward to see how this plays out over the next coming years.

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  • zodiacfml - Wednesday, January 13, 2021 - link

    Sounds like Qualcomm paid a lot just to get those few people working for them. I would do same though as Qualcomm has to be able to supply Microsoft and other vendors the Arm SoCs capable of matching Apple's M1 like products.
  • mode_13h - Thursday, January 14, 2021 - link

    > Qualcomm has to be able to supply Microsoft and other vendors the Arm SoCs capable of matching Apple's M1 like products.

    This argument always seemed weird to me. As long as the performance differential isn't like orders of magnitude, I don't think it really matters if Apple has faster CPUs. People who buy Apple products do so for all sorts of warm-fuzzy reasons or because it's the only way to run the software they need, rather than on the basis of benchmarks and tech specs.
  • Otritus - Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - link

    I know a lot of people with 2012 apple machines that then switched to windows for better performance. If windows machines lose their performance advantage (which they kind of have), then any enthusiast who prefers mac os is switching back to apple. Furthermore, if apple puts more powerful gpus in their machines, you may see game developers focus more on mac os, and naturally some gamers would follow.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - link

    > I know a lot of people with 2012 apple machines that then switched to windows for better performance.

    They ditched an expensive niche platform for a cheaper mainstream one. It's harder to go the other way.

    > if apple puts more powerful gpus in their machines, you may see game developers focus more on mac os, and naturally some gamers would follow.

    I don't see it. Game devs are going to use the same platform as the overwhelming majority of gamers, especially since Windows and XBox are cousins. Sure, a few fringe devs might use Macs, but probably not much more than before (and some of those only because Apple forces it, for iOS app development).

    Macs will always be too expensive to make sense, as a gaming platform. Consoles and PCs will always have a significant advantage in perf/$ and the vast majority of the gamer market is at least somewhat price-sensitive.

    Furthermore, GPUs are the main bottleneck for most games, and it's unlikely Apple can pull such a coup in GPU performance as they did with their CPU. GPUs aren't constrained by ISA or even API (as Mantle/DX12/Vulkan showed).
  • ikjadoon - Sunday, February 21, 2021 - link

    As someone who's owned only Windows PCs for 15 years, I think I'll be moving to an Apple Silicon desktop in the next few years.

    >They ditched an expensive niche platform for a cheaper mainstream one. It's harder to go the other way.

    Absolutely incorrect. You seem misinformed on MacOS growth: 17% of the world's desktops & laptops run MacOS now and it's been growing 20% each year for a decade now. And that was *before* M1 / Apple Silicon.
  • Frenetic Pony - Wednesday, January 13, 2021 - link

    A small note: Qualcomm's old custom CPU cores were more power efficient than ARM's in general, as detailed benchmarks bore out. But ARM clocked their CPUs higher, increasing power drain and lowering battery life, but impressing in benchmarks. Benchmarks Qualcomm investors used to justify the CPU division getting cut, despite their superior technology. Because, well that's what happens when investors think they understand engineering.

    Qualcomm needs to adjust its own attitude towards know it all investors as much as it needs more differentiated products. Or else the same thing could happen all over again.
  • serendip - Thursday, January 14, 2021 - link

    The Firestorm cores on the M1 clock higher and use more power than Cortex A-78 and X1. That's how you get high performance on devices like laptops where low power drain isn't such a concern as compared to phones. I have a feeling a Qualcomm-Nuvia chip could end up using similar M1 concepts like a wide and deep pipeline and a fast memory controller to beat x86 chips.
  • ikjadoon - Sunday, February 21, 2021 - link

    >The Firestorm cores on the M1 clock higher and use more power than Cortex A-78 and X1.

    Firestorm consume *less* energy than X1, while being much faster. The power drain is significantly in Apple's favor.

    Firestorm: 63.34 points, 8941 joules consumed
    SD888 X1: 41.30 points, 9621 joules consumed (ouch)
    SD888 A78: 30.32 points, 7258 joules consumed (double-ouch)

    Firestorm: 81.23 points, 4700 joules consumed
    SD888 X1: 59.29 points, 4972 joules consumed (triple-ouch)
    SD888 A78: 46.65 points, 3868 joules consumed (have mercy)

    NUVIA's Phoenix cores are claimed to have higher efficiency than A13, so I hope to see it ship in consumer laptops sooner than later. :(
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Thursday, January 14, 2021 - link

    This just wrong. Qualcomm stopped using their own cores in mobile because they were less efficient than Cortex cores - Qualcomm openly admitted to this fact.
  • eastcoast_pete - Thursday, January 14, 2021 - link

    From what I remember, their custom cores had better floating point performance, but that didn't help that much with most everyday tasks. Still, would be nice if another custom core player joins the ARM-RISC space also in mobile.

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