In a bid to boost the horsepower of its mobile silicon, Qualcomm said Tuesday that it plans to buy a Bay Area semiconductor startup Nuvia, founded by key former Apple chip designers, for $1.4 billion.
The move highlights Qualcomm's efforts to deliver top performing core processors not only for Android smartphones but also for laptops, connected cars and other electronics gear.
Demand for more powerful mobile computing likely will increase with the continued rollout of faster, more reliable 5G wireless networks, according to the company.
"The Nuvia team are proven innovators," said Cristiano Amon, president and chief executive -elect of Qualcomm. "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."
The deal also steers Qualcomm back into designing for custom central processing units — perhaps providing it some independence given rival Nvidia's pending acquisition of ARM Holdings, analysts said.
ARM provides the underlying architecture that Qualcomm and others use to design energy-efficient semiconductors. While Qualcomm tweaked ARM's designs to fit its needs in the past, the San Diego company hasn't emphasized customization as much in recent years for CPUs.
Meanwhile, Apple has achieved strong benchmark scores recently for its custom-designed, ARM-based silicon that powers MacBooks and iPhones.
In stealth mode until 2019, Santa Clara-based Nuvia was founded by John Bruno, Manu Gulati, and Gerard Williams III. The trio spent several years at Apple working on the company's A-series silicon for iPhones and iPads. Bruno and Gulati also worked at Google. The founders have received more than 100 patents for their work.
Nuvia aimed to develop a "clean sheet" custom CPU based on ARM for powerful computer servers used in data centers. The chip was expected to be ready in 2022.
Qualcomm abandoned efforts to make data center chips about two years ago. It doesn't appear that it intends to re-enter the market — dominated by Intel — with the Nuvia deal.