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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  • Silver5urfer - Friday, November 19, 2021 - link

    And who are those EXPERTS you talking about ? I wonder if it's going to shatter Redwood Cove and Zen 5, which are going to destroy every single CPU out there.

    Apple M got nothing, all that fluff marketing got busted out once the benches were out, it's competitive but only with 5nm design vs Intel's old parts and Zen's inferior designs. In GPU it's a massacre by Nvidia and AMD.

    Bonus is $2666 starting price tag with a BGA soldered SSD junk and Max SoC is $3300+. Qcomm talks a lot, their CPUs cannot even beat Apple and some magical Nuvia is going to deliver industry shattering performance ? I already saw what Apple had to do with 57bn transistors with massive GPU cores and still unable to beat the cheaper manufactured Silicon from AMD, Intel and Nvidia. This joke of ARM taking over the world has been there since 10 years still people beat the same old drum.

    Wait for Alder Lake BGA processors wreck havoc on M1 Max. That's just Intel 10nm. Once Zen 4 launches with Intel's Meteor Lake it will be a big bloodbath.
  • mode_13h - Saturday, November 20, 2021 - link

    > I wonder if it's going to shatter Redwood Cove and Zen 5,
    > which are going to destroy every single CPU out there.

    Not in perf/W. Remember, Qualcomm is going for the laptop market.
  • Farfolomew - Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - link

    This dude's obviously a bit off his rocker, but I do think Alder Lake has a legitimate chance in succeeding in mobile. It will be interesting to see how it fairs against the M1, new Snapdragon chips, and possibly these new Nuvia ones in 2023. I agree with Ian that 2022 is going to be a really fun year for CPUs.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    > It will be interesting to see how it fairs against the M1, new Snapdragon chips,
    > and possibly these new Nuvia ones in 2023.

    For sure. I'll have my popcorn ready, for when the reviews are up. I don't think Alder Lake will beat Apple or Nuvia, but the question is more one of whether it'll be competitive enough to stave off the threat of ARM eating into its Windows laptop marketshare.

    I don't quite know what to make of the fact that Intel launched Alder Lake on desktop, first. Was that mostly a PR move? Or do they face some efficiency challenges in their new Intel 7 node?

    I'm also intrigued by the lack of any messaging around Gracemont-based entry-level SoCs, like a successor to Jasper Lake. Again, this could speak to power-efficiency challenges they're facing, or simply (more likely) prioritizing their limited Intel 7 production capacity. However, failure to counter Mediatek's aggressive moves in the Chromebook market segment could cost them a substantial share of it.
  • lmcd - Saturday, November 20, 2021 - link

    Nuvia is a cool product addition but they were never gunning for low-power products. That means that, once again, we will see a garbage A55 or an even-more-garbage A510, barring a major surprise -- essentially, Qualcomm would have had to have lied about leaving the custom CPU space and have been working on a low-end CPU core design since about the time they announced they were leaving the space.

    By contrast, Alder Lake and its Atom E-Cores (as well as a massive Atom performance improvement timed to land as Alder Lake landed) speak to responding to Apple as soon as possible. It's clear one of these two companies feared competition, and one didn't. Hopefully, the continued inadequacy of Qualcomm mobile SoCs leads to an eventual US antitrust lawsuit. It's disturbing that nothing has happened to force their hand.
  • mode_13h - Sunday, November 21, 2021 - link

    > they were never gunning for low-power products.

    Nuvia has the knowledge and experience of how Apple's low-power cores are designed. So, it definitely seems like the *could* make good low-power cores, if they wanted.

    > Alder Lake and its Atom E-Cores ... speak to responding to Apple

    It might be the overall ARM-based laptop threat, not specifically Apple. I don't expect Alder Lake to be very competitive against Apple, within a similar power envelope.

    > It's clear one of these two companies feared competition, and one didn't.

    I think Qualcomm's decision to stop making mobile CPU cores was based on the cost and trouble of trying to keep just marginally ahead of ARM's cores. They clearly decided to differentiate their SoCs in other areas. Maybe, if their homegrown cores had been more competitive, they'd have stuck with it. That's not to cast aspersions on the engineers, either. It could be that they were simply under-resourced for the task at hand.
  • zodiacfml - Sunday, November 21, 2021 - link

    whatever. end consumer product will cost more than an Intel and probably Apple product since they put a huge premium on cellular connectivity like on those Arm based MS laptops/tablets despite poor performance
  • CaptGingi - Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - link

    If like me, you follow the on-going court case regarding Gerard Williams III’s theft of Apple’s trade secrets and his “plot” to spin-up Nuvia to compete directly against Apple, you will note that while a trial is still a ways off, Mr. Williams and Nuvia are not doing well trying to spin that he/they did nothing wrong, despite discovery already quite clearly painting a highly suspicious picture, and the judge getting quite upset numerous times with Mr. Williams gamesmanship and warning that he MUST unequivocally produce all of the trade secret documents that came out that he “mistakenly” had copied to his personal devices and directly testify to the court about numerous questions he is refusing to answer fully/honestly about. You can access all records by going to the Santa Clara court website and searching by party name first:Gerard last:Williams to see the progression of this legal action.
  • systemBuilder33 - Saturday, June 11, 2022 - link

    With only $57m of initial seed money for Nuvia, they don't have a single penny left over to work on a GPU (let alone any GPU software). Therefore, Nuvia is short for NoGpuvia.

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