One of the more curious acquisitions in the last couple of years has been that of Nuvia by Qualcomm. Nuvia was a Silicon Valley start-up founded by the key silicon and design engineers and architects behind both Apple’s and Google’s silicon for the past few years. Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon made it crystal clear when Nuvia was acquired that they were going after the high-performance ultraportable laptop market, with both Intel and Apple in the crosshairs.

Nuvia came out of stealth in November 2019, with the three main founders having spent almost a year building the company. Gerard Williams III, John Bruno, and Manu Gulati have collectively driven the silicon design of 20+ chips, have combined over 100 patent, and have been in leadership roles across Google, Apple, Arm, Broadcom, and AMD. Nuvia raised a lot of capital, $300M+ over two rounds of funding and angel investors, and the company hired a lot of impressive staff.

The goal of Nuvia was to build an Arm-based general purpose server chip that would rock the industry. Imagine something similar to what Graviton 2 and Ampere Altra are today, but with a custom microarchitecture on par (or better) with Apple’s current designs. When Nuvia was still on its own in start-up mode, some were heralding the team and the prospect, calling for the downfall of x86 with Nuvia’s approach. However, Qualcomm swept in and acquired the company in March 2021, and repurposed Nuvia’s efforts towards a laptop processor.

It’s been no secret that Qualcomm has been after the laptop and notebook market for some time. Multiple generations of ‘Windows on Snapdragon’ have come to market through Qualcomm’s partners, initially featuring smartphone-class silicon before becoming something more bespoke with the 8cx, 8cx Gen 2, and 7c/7 options in the past couple of years. It has taken several years for Qualcomm to get the silicon and the Windows ecosystem somewhere that makes sense for commercial and consumer use, and with the recent news that Windows 11 on these devices now enabling full x86-64 emulation support, the functional difference between a Qualcomm laptop and an x86 laptop is supposed to be near zero. Qualcomm would argue their proposition is better, allowing for 2 days of use on a single charge, holding charge for weeks, and mobile wireless connectivity with 4G/5G. I’ve tested one of the previous generation S855 Lenovo Yoga devices, and the battery life is insane – but I needed better were functional support (turns out I have an abnormal edge-case work flow…) and more performance. While Qualcomm has been working on the former since my last test, and Nuvia is set to bring the latter.

Image from @anshelsag on Twitter, Used with permission

At Qualcomm’s Investor Day this week, the Qualcomm/Nuvia relationship was mentioned in an update. I had hoped that by the end of this year (and Qualcomm’s Tech Summit in only a couple of weeks) that we might be seeing something regarding details or performance, however Qualcomm is stating that its original schedule is still on track. As announced at the acquisition, the goal is to deliver test silicon into the hands of partners in the second half of 2022.

The goal here is to have laptop silicon that is competitive with Apple's M-series, but running Windows. This means blowing past Intel and AMD offerings, and coupled with the benefits of better battery life, sustained performance, and mobile connectivity. From the disclosures so far, it’s perhaps no surprise that the Nuvia CPUs will be paired with an Adreno GPU and a Hexagon DSP, although it will be interesting to see if the Nuvia CPU is a single big core paired with regular Arm efficient cores, or everything in the CPU side will be new from the Nuvia team.

I have no doubt that at Qualcomm’s Tech Summit in December 2022 we’ll get a deeper insight into the microarchitecture of the new core. Either that or Qualcomm might surprise us with a Hot Chips presentation in August. With regards to going beyond laptop chips, while Qualcomm is happy to state that Nuvia's designs will be 'extended to [other areas] opportunistically', it's clear that they're locking the crosshairs on the laptop market before even considering what else might be in the field of view.

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  • Wrs - Thursday, November 18, 2021 - link

    GPUs are one of the easier things to scale up and down. If Qualcomm had some miracle GPU tech one would think their phone SoCs would get it first. That's their bread and butter! But here I have this suspicion they're just spamming silicon on a low volume part. Easy to win the benchmarks, hard to commercialize.
  • darkich - Friday, November 19, 2021 - link

    M1 got destroyed??!!
    Your brain is destroyed
  • JeffreyHF - Thursday, November 25, 2021 - link

    Your reference to Centriq is specious. Centriq was not abandoned because it was technologically untenable. To the contrary. It was cut in what became a successful effort to save the company as an independent entity.

    Apple had ordered the contract manufacturers to withhold all royalties from Qualcomm, at the same time that Apple was itself refusing to enter a PLA, and was instead instigating the FTC v Qualcomm case.

    Broadcom tried to steal the company for $79/sh, bottom feeding the company that Apple was trying to destroy.

    Centriq was reluctantly abandoned as part of the effort to withstand the existential threat, a major buyback of shares was implemented, CFIUS was lobbied, and the multi-frontal litigation onslaught was defended. Nuvia gets to fulfill their server ambitions, among other products.
  • mode_13h - Friday, November 26, 2021 - link

    Thanks for sharing that - it's a perspective I've not heard.

    I thought the Centriq point was pretty far out there, and was just waiting for someone knowledgeable to step in and pour some cold water on it. I'm glad you did.
  • Silver5urfer - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - link

    Centriq was in 2017 and Broadcomm and Apple take over was in 2018, I know Apple wanted to steal Qcomm and eat their LTE patents it was out at EETimes for that, Apple is a scum garbage. That's not new. They robbed Imagination Tech, they bankrupted GT Advanced tech as well and ruined Dialog Semi as well.

    Centriq was heralded as next thing and Cloudflare did a lot of advertising, everything was dead including the people who made it that when Snapdragon team who design Kryo 820.

    Nuvia is going to deliver a miracle as Server Ambitions is going to be decided once this product is out. Until then it's vaporware.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    > They robbed Imagination Tech

    The thing I'll never quite understand about that is why Apple left the hulking husk of Imagination for someone like the Chinese to harvest of its IP. Was Apple feeling that Imagination was overplaying its hand and demanding too high an acquisition price, thus rejecting that path on principle? In practice, I think it would've been worth paying even too high a price just to swallow it and keep all that IP to themselves.

    The saga of what has played out at Imagination, since then, is sad and hard to watch.
  • systemBuilder33 - Saturday, June 11, 2022 - link

    I dedicated 12 years of my wife to working at Qualcomm. Everybody there runs around thinking they have a target on my back. I never saw such paranoia. If I could do one thing for Qualcomm, it would be, give everyone a tranquilizer every day at work, there's some serious mental illness their about the company's always-impending destruction next month ...
  • JeffreyHF - Sunday, December 12, 2021 - link

    Centriq and the custom CPU team were axed, in an effort to protect the company from a cheap takeover. They were sacrificed on the alter of corporate survival. Times have changed, and Qualcomm weathered the ruthless attacks by Apple/FTC and Broadcom, and they've shrugged off Apple's modem slot loss, by diversification. With the help if the Nuvia team, innovation will again be funded, and rule the day. Competition is good for everyone. Let's check back in a year, and see who's got what.
  • systemBuilder33 - Saturday, June 11, 2022 - link

    The company really doesn't understand computers, or the internet. I worked there once. mark my words. they only understand wireless system design.
  • sseemaku - Thursday, November 18, 2021 - link

    Big claims. Has CPU design become so easy that everybody is doing it? Doing it and then beating laptop class performance of Intel/AMD/Apple?
    And few years ago, people were like 'my ivybridge can do all my work, so I am off to buy Ipad'. And here we are in post-pc era with every company targeting laptop market.

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