Qualcomm Completes Nuvia Acquisition, Aims for Laptops

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Qualcomm announced it has completed its acquisition of Nuvia, the CPU design company that broke cover last year with claims its architectures would outperform both Apple and x86. Here’s what those claims looked like when we covered them at the time:

Nuvia’s projected performance per watt suggested it could seriously challenge x86 and even Apple. Qualcomm must have seen something they liked.

We haven’t seen Nuvia’s actual designs yet, but Qualcomm has and the company clearly thinks it has a winner. Ever since Apple unleashed the M1 on the x86 world, I’ve predicted it would only be the first competitor out of several. Now, Qualcomm is teeing up its own response, to be delivered in fairly short order (at least, by semiconductor standards).

“The world-class Nuvia team enhances our CPU roadmap, extending Qualcomm’s leading technology position with the Windows, Android and Chrome ecosystems,” said Cristiano Amon, president and CEO-elect of Qualcomm.

Qualcomm has said that it intends to deploy next-generation CPUs across a range of products, including ADAS, AR/VR, and networking infrastructure equipment. The company’s PR also states that Qualcomm expects chips based on “new internally designed CPUs” to sample in the second half of 2022. Samples in the back half of 2022 imply launches in Q1 – Q2 2023.

Qualcomm will likely deliver at least one more platform refresh before its Nuvia silicon is ready for prime time. The current 8cx Gen 2 is nothing but a warmed-over Snapdragon 8cx. The Cortex-A76 architecture the 8cx uses is not bad, but benchmark comparisons of the M1 versus equivalent Windows on ARM systems have overwhelmingly tilted towards Apple, while x86 versus Windows-on-ARM comparisons continue to favor x86 for everything but maximum battery life. The 8cx and 8cx Gen 2 are underpowered for the market they wish to compete in.

A solution derived from the ARM Cortex-A78, ideally with a clock speed boost, would help close the gap between x86 and ARM products in the Windows ecosystem. Comparisons against Apple are always going to be more complicated due to the additional questions of which software ecosystem you use, but it surely wouldn’t hurt Qualcomm to improve its standing relative to Apple before Nuvia-designed hardware arrives.

The two-year timeframe is interesting for another reason: It’s long enough to give AMD and Intel time to actually respond to the M1 itself. Apple’s new CPU debuted a few months after Intel’s Tiger Lake and right after AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series debuted. Nothing in either of those chips is a response to it, and both Intel and AMD are already deep into Zen 4 / Alder Lake designs, respectively. By the time Qualcomm brings its custom silicon to market, it will be facing off against some combination of Zen 5 and either Raptor Lake or Meteor Lake, depending on exact timing. Meteor Lake is Intel’s expected first 7nm mobile hardware, while Raptor Lake is a theorized 10nm refresh that may happen next year.

Either way, a 2023 competitor means AMD and Intel have time to study the M1 and see what they can do to further improve x86’s efficiency. The next few years are going to be a very interesting time in the CPU market. Intel is going to be laser-focused on bringing 7nm to market and regaining overall performance leadership, while AMD has a newly created legacy of strong year-on-year performance improvements it wants to protect.

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