Current News

/

ArcaMax

Qualcomm buying Bay Area chip startup Nuvia for $1.4 billion

Mike Freeman, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

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.

 

Instead, Qualcomm plans to integrate Nuvia's CPUs prowess into its Snapdragon system on a chip for smartphones, laptops, connected cars, advanced driver assistance systems, augmented and virtual reality gear and network infrastructure products.

"Adding Nuvia's deep understanding of high-performance design and integrating Nuvia's CPUs with Snapdragon — together with our industry-leading graphics and artificial intelligence — will take computing performance to a new level and drive new capabilities for products that serve multiple industries," said Jim Thompson, chief technology officer of Qualcomm.

Nuvia raised nearly $300 million in venture capital during the past two years, including $240 million in October. Backers include the founders of chip maker Marvell Technology Group, Dell's venture capital arm, Atlantic Bridge, Redline Capital, Capricorn Investment Group and WRVI Capital, among others.

The deal must be approved by regulators. Qualcomm declined to say how many people work at Nuvia but the employees are expected to join Qualcomm, including founders Williams, Gulati and Bruno.

In announcing the deal, Qualcomm listed statements in support from 20 customers across a range of industries. They include Microsoft, Samsung, Google, General Motors, Renault, Sharp, Bosch, Sony, Lenovo, HP, Xiaomi, OnePlus, LG and Honor, formerly Huawei's smartphone division.

While Nuvia isn't yet a household name in the semiconductor industry, its technology "will allow Qualcomm to push the envelope on its CPU designs," said Daniel Newman of tech research firm Futurum.

"It's hard to downplay the importance this should have for Qualcomm in protecting its system development and desire to aggressively expand compute beyond just the smartphone, where it is currently best known," said Newman.

Qualcomm announced the deal before markets opened. Its shares were up nearly 2 percent at $157.14 in mid-day trading on the Nasdaq.

©2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit sandiegouniontribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.