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Qualcomm Acquires Nuvia for CPUs

February 16, 2021

Author: Linley Gwennap

Qualcomm’s $1.4 billion acquisition of startup Nuvia indicates its dissatisfaction with Arm’s CPU roadmap and its need for differentiated smartphone processors. The two-year-old startup has been developing a custom Arm-compatible CPU called Phoenix that was slated to serve in a power-efficient data-center processor. Ironically, Qualcomm plans to deploy the new CPU just about everywhere but the data center, seeing opportunities in laptop PCs, in-dash automotive systems, automotive safety (ADAS), virtual-reality (VR) headsets, and wireless-networking equipment in addition to flagship smartphones.

Nuvia was founded in early 2019 by three Apple veterans: Gerard Williams, John Bruno, and Manu Gulati. Williams, who served as Nuvia’s CEO, led the development of Cortex-A8 and Cortex-A15 for Arm before becoming chief architect of Apple’s custom Arm CPUs. The Silicon Valley startup quickly gained momentum, raising a total of $297 million in less than two years and growing to 250 employees.

Nuvia was developing a server processor called Orion along the lines of other Arm-based chips such as Amazon’s Graviton and Ampere’s Altra. To enable Orion to pack dozens of CPU cores, Phoenix targets a 4W power envelope. Nuvia expected the CPU to double the performance of Cortex-A78 and exceed that of Apple’s A13 (“Lightning”) CPU by 50%. These goals may be somewhat aspirational, but they indicate an aggressive focus on performance per watt.

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