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Qualcomm just snapped up Apple's chief architect and his CPU startup

Expect custom CPUs from the same person behind Apple's class-leading iPhone chips.

Published onJanuary 13, 2021

Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 in hand
  • Qualcomm has announced a $1.4 billion deal to acquire chip design firm Nuvia.
  • The fledgling company was founded by Apple executive Gerard Williams III.
  • He is the long-time chief architect behind a variety of Apple CPUs and chipsets.

Qualcomm is the top dog in the Android phone space right now, but it faces stiff competition in the general smartphone space and computing space thanks to players like Apple. Now, the US chipmaker has announced a $1.4 billion deal to acquire fledgling silicon design firm Nuvia.

Nuvia was founded back in 2019 by former Apple silicon executive Gerard Williams III, along with Manu Gulati and John Bruno. Williams was the chief architect behind several major Apple CPUs and chipsets from 2010 to 2019.

More specifically, Williams’ LinkedIn profile notes that he was behind the Cyclone, Typhoon, Twister, Hurricane, Monsoon, Vortex, Lightning and Firestorm CPUs. These CPUs were featured in the Apple A7, A8, A9, A10, A11, A12 series, A13, and A14 respectively. The Nuvia founder’s profile also notes that he was the chief architect for Apple’s Mac hardware.

Going back even futher, the Nuvia co-founder worked at Arm from 1998 to 2010, working on CPU tech like the Arm Cortex-A8 and Cortex-A15 CPU cores.

Gerard Williams III
LinkedIn/Gerard Williams III

In announcing the deal, Qualcomm said that Nuvia has industry-leading expertise in “high performance processors, Systems on a Chip and power management for compute-intensive devices and applications.” So how will Qualcomm use the new firm’s know-how?

“Nuvia CPUs are expected to be integrated across Qualcomm Technologies’ broad portfolio of products, powering flagship smartphones, next-generation laptops, and digital cockpits, as well as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, extended reality and infrastructure networking solutions,” the San Diego firm explained. Qualcomm also referred us to this passage when we asked it about custom CPU plans with Nuvia.

In other words, it sounds like we can expect future Qualcomm smartphone processors to swap out Arm’s Cortex CPUs in favor of (newly) in-house solutions. This would mark the first time since 2016’s Snapdragon 820 that it used custom CPU designs. But the big difference between now and then of course, is that Qualcomm didn’t have Apple’s chief silicon designer working for it.

It’s also worth noting that Qualcomm says Nuvia CPUs will be found inside next-generation laptops, suggesting that future Windows on Arm laptops will gain a major performance boost. And it’s just in time too, as Apple makes waves with its M1-powered Mac computers.

Do you think this deal will help Qualcomm to beat Apple? Give us your thoughts in the comments!