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Qualcomm buys CPU startup Nuvia to beef up PC, smartphone performance

Qualcomm said Wednesday that it plans to buy startup Nuvia for $1.4 billion, potentially as a way to beef up its own CPU efforts and challenge Apple more directly in the Arm computing space.

Nuvia was founded by an ex-Apple chip architect, Gerard Williams III, who was reportedly pushed into designing server chips because of a non-compete clause that he had signed with his former employer. Nuvia’s mission is, in its words, to “reimagine silicon design to create a new class of processor that delivers the step-function performance and energy efficiency improvements needed to power the next era of computing.” Nuvia has never announced a product, though it was suspected to be developing its own Arm CPU for data centers.

Nuvia CPUs are expected to be integrated across Qualcomm Technologies’ broad portfolio of products, including PCs. Qualcomm said Nuvia’s technology would be involved in “powering flagship smartphones, next-generation laptops, and digital cockpits, as well as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, extended reality and infrastructure networking solutions.”

Qualcomm lined up support from well over a dozen partners, including Microsoft, Google, OnePlus, Sharp, Sony, Xiaomi, and others to support the move. The deal still has to be approved by regulatory agencies. 

“Together, we are very well positioned to redefine computing and enable our ecosystem of partners to drive innovation and deliver a new class of products and experiences for the 5G era,” said Cristiano Amon, the newly appointed “chief executive-elect” of Qualcomm, in a statement. 

For about the past two years, Qualcomm has released versions of its Snapdragon processors for the PC space, including the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 5G last September. But the company’s promises of performance that would compete with traditional X86 chips like the Intel Core lineup didn’t pan out. Meanwhile, Apple overturned the traditional CPU market with its release of the M1 chip, powering its MacBook and Mac mini computers and competing very well against Intel’s 11th-gen Core chips. 

All of those efforts raised questions about how Qualcomm would continue to compete against an Apple M1 chip that significantly outperformed what Qualcomm had to offer. With its purchase of Nuvia, Qualcomm appears to be working on an answer. 

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