Nov 17, 2022 - Technology

Qualcomm plans new PC chip in lawsuit's shadow

Ina Fried

Illustration:Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Qualcomm promised Wednesday that it will deliver a next-generation PC chip using technology from its Nuvia acquisition next year, even as Arm has sued to block it from such a move.

Why it matters: Qualcomm is counting on the technology not only to reinvigorate its years-long effort to crack the computer market, but also to become the core of its entire Snapdragon processor line across smartphones, computers, cars and mixed-reality devices.

Driving the news: Speaking at Snapdragon Summit in Maui, former Nuvia CEO Gerard Williams III (now a Qualcomm senior VP) announced the chip's brand name — Oryon — and promised that customers would be able to get their hands on devices next year.

  • He further said Oryon would eventually be used beyond PCs as Qualcomm looks to build chips around a single architecture.

Yes, but: Arm has sued Qualcomm, saying that even though Nuvia and Qualcomm both had Arm licenses, the Nuvia technology was not transferrable without an agreement on new licensing terms.

  • Arm said it has canceled Nuvia's license and is asking a court to force Qualcomm to destroy all of the Nuvia-developed technology.

Between the lines: The Arm-Qualcomm dispute is messy, with lots of subplots and wrinkles.

  • Qualcomm is one of Arm's biggest customers, but it also has a very favorable licensing deal that allows it to pay less than many newer licensees.
  • Also, Qualcomm actively opposed SoftBank's effort to sell Arm to Nvidia, a deal that was eventually scuttled by regulators.
  • And then there is Apple, which is suing Williams (a former Apple employee), arguing that he planned Nuvia's technology and recruited other Apple employees while still working for the iPhone maker.
  • That gives Apple some aligned interests with Arm, especially since Arm is suing to force Qualcomm to destroy any technology that emanates from Nuvia and uses Arm's technology. Apple would be very happy if Nuvia's technology never saw light of day.

What they're saying: In interviews with Axios, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon said that the suit would not affect Qualcomm's plans and that devices running the Oryon architecture would arrive in the second half of 2023.

  • Eventually, he said Oryon would come to "everything we are doing."
  • He didn't say which markets it would come to and when, but did hint mobile could be next. "You can think about what the obvious next one would be," Amon said on Wednesday, noting that there was a reason that the chip was announced at Snapdragon Summit.
  • Less clear is whether Qualcomm might use Oryon to try to get back into the data center — a market that Qualcomm has exited but where Nuvia had been focused prior to its acquisition by Qualcomm.
  • Amon said that Qualcomm is largely focused on what it sees as n eventual $700 billion market for devices beyond the smartphone, but added that "We are being opportunistic about the data center."
  • "Some of the things that we want to do on the edge, they have value in the data center, especially if you want to do reprocessing of data," he said.

Go deeper: What's behind the big Arm-Qualcomm lawsuit

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to change two references to "Nuvia" to "Oryon" to reflect Qualcomm's introduction of the new brand name.

Disclosure: Reporting for this article took place at Qualcomm's Snapdragon Summit in Maui, where I moderated a video interview on Wednesday. Qualcomm paid for my travel-related costs.

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