still waiting —
Qualcomm’s early-2021 Nuvia acquisition is taking time to bear fruit.
Qualcomm bought a chipmaking startup called Nuvia back in March of 2021, and later that year, the company said it would be using Nuvia’s talent and technology to create high-performance custom-designed ARM chips to compete with Apple’s processor designs. But if you’re waiting for a truly high-performance Windows PC with anything other than an Intel or AMD chip in it, you’ll still be waiting for a bit. Qualcomm CEO Christian Amon mentioned during the company’s most recent earnings call that its high-performance chips were on track to land in consumer devices “in late 2023.”
Qualcomm still plans to sample chips to its partners later in 2022, a timeframe it has mentioned previously and has managed to stick to. A gap between sampling and mass production is typical, giving Qualcomm time to work out bugs and improve chip yields and PC manufacturers more time to design and build finished products that incorporate the chips.
Qualcomm acquired Nuvia based in part on its personnel—the company was founded by former members of Apple’s chip design team—and in part on its work designing ARM-based server chips. Chip designs take years to bring to market, so even if Nuvia had already been working on chips destined for consumer laptops when it was acquired, it was always going to be at least a couple of years before we could actually buy them in anything.
Like Apple’s processors, Nuvia’s support the ARM instruction set but don’t use off-the-shelf ARM Cortex CPU designs. These processor cores have been phenomenally successful in commodity SoCs that power everything from Android phones to smart TVs, and they helped popularize the practice of combining large, high-performance CPU cores and small, high-efficiency CPU cores together in the same design. But they rarely manage to top the performance charts, something that’s especially noticeable when they’re running x86 code on Windows with a performance penalty.
If the Nuvia chips can match or beat the M1’s performance in late 2023, that will still be an impressive improvement relative to current-generation Snapdragon chips. Apple may be one or two generations past the M1 by then, but Qualcomm will have the benefit of competing more directly with Intel and AMD rather than Apple. Catching up to Apple’s performance may be difficult, but beating x86 chips on power efficiency could be a more achievable goal.
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