One of the more interesting acquisitions in recent years has been Nuvia by Qualcomm. Nuvia was a Silicon Valley start-up founded by key silicon and design engineers and architects behind Apple and Google’s silicon in recent years. Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon made it clear when Nuvia was bought to go after the high-performance ultraportable notebook market, with Intel and Apple on target.
Nuvia came out of secrecy in November 2019, and the three main founders spent almost a year building the company. Gerard Williams III, John Bruno and Manu Gulati together launched the silicone design of 20+ chips, combined over 100 patents and held leading positions in Google, Apple, Arm, Broadcom and AMD. Nuvia has raised a lot of capital, $ 300 million + in two rounds of financing and angel investors, and the company has hired a lot of impressive staff.
Nuvia’s goal was to make a general-purpose server chip based on Arma that would shake up the industry. Imagine something similar to what Graviton 2 and Ampere Altra are today, but with a customized microarchitecture that is equal (or better) to Apple’s current design. When Nuvia was still alone in start-up mode, some were announcing the team and prospects, calling for a drop in x86 with Nuvia’s approach. However, Qualcomm came in and bought the company in March 2021 and redirected Nuvia’s efforts towards a laptop processor.
It’s no secret that Qualcomm has been following the laptop and notebook market for some time. Several generations of ‘Windows on Snapdragon’ came to market through Qualcomm’s partners, initially containing silicon-grade smartphones before becoming slightly more adapted to the 8cx, 8cx Gen 2 and 7c / 7 options in recent years. It took Qualcomm several years to bring silicon and the Windows ecosystem to a place that makes sense for commercial and consumer use, and with recent news that Windows 11 on these devices now provides full support for x86-64 emulation, the functional difference between a Qualcomm laptop and an x86 laptop they should be close to zero. Qualcomm would argue that their proposal is better, as it allows 2 days of use with a single charge, retention of the charge for weeks and a mobile wireless connection with 4G / 5G. I tested one of the previous generation S855 Lenovo Yoga devices and the battery life is insane – but I needed better functional support (it turned out I had an abnormal workflow at the edge of the case…) and more performance. While Qualcomm is working on the first of my last test, Nuvia is ready to bring the second.
Picture from @anshelsag on Twitter, Used with permission
On Qualcomm Investor Day this week, the Qualcomm / Nuvia relationship was mentioned in the update. I was hoping that by the end of this year (and Qualcomm’s technical summit in just a few weeks) we might see something related to details or performance, however Qualcomm states that its original schedule is still on track. As announced during the purchase, the goal is to deliver test silicon into the hands of partners in the second half of 2022.
The goal here is to have a laptop silicone that is competitive with Apple’s M-series, but under Windows. This means you’ll outperform Intel and AMD offerings, along with the benefits of better battery life, lasting performance and mobile connectivity. According to the findings so far, it may come as no surprise that Nuvia CPUs will be paired with Adreno GPUs and Hexagon DSPs, although it will be interesting to see if the Nuvia CPU is one large core paired with regular Arm efficient cores, or all on the CPU side will be new from the Nuvia team.
I have no doubt that at the Qualcomm Tech Summit in December 2022, we will gain a deeper insight into the microarchitecture of the new core. Either that or Qualcomm could surprise us with a Hot Chips presentation in August. As for overcoming chips for laptops, while Qualcomm is pleased to announce that the Nuvia design will be “expanded to [other areas] opportunistically ‘, it is clear that they have targeted the laptop market before considering what else could be in sight.
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