Nvidia announced on Sunday evening that it would acquire the computer giant Arm for $ 40 billion. During a press conference early Monday morning, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, and Simon Segars, CEO of Arm, highlighted the importance of the business for existing markets such as smartphones and the future of the two companies.
The most important finding is that Arm’s core business strategy remains independent. Nvidia is buying part of Arm to gain access to its multitude of licensing partners, and those companies can continue to use Arm’s intellectual property as before. Nvidia plans to add its own graphics and AI-IP to the chain, thereby expanding its reach to various computer markets around the world.
This means what Nvidia’s purchase of Arm means for the wireless market and the entire tech industry.
Nvidia buys arm: the pros and cons
Pending regulatory approval, Nvidia will buy Arm from SoftBank for a total of $ 40 billion. This will be paid in the form of $ 12 billion in cash and $ 21.5 billion in stocks. Regulatory approval can take around 18 months. During this time, Arm and Nvidia will continue to operate as separate entries and will stick to their current public roadmaps. If the deal goes through, Arm will become a business unit of Nvidia.
Nvidia – currently Arm’s customer – states that Arm will retain its operational independence. In the sense that it will continue to operate as a subsidiary instead of being incorporated into Nvidia as a whole. In other words, the deal is not going to hack Arm for intellectual property or human resources. This is important because Arm’s core IP licensing business remains unchanged. Various partners who are currently licensing Arm technology, such as mobile giants Apple and Qualcomm, can continue to do so. However, we don’t know yet if Nvidia will use Arm technology for future proprietary designs.
Latest arm processors: Arm Cortex-X1 and A78 | Arm Mali-G78 and G68
The big picture is that Nvidia Arm bought in part to access its licensing business model and Rolodex of existing customers. Huang plans to expand Arm’s IP licensing portfolio with the world’s leading GPU and AI technology from Nvidia. This is part of Nvidia’s plan to move its AI computing power to a much wider range of devices, from tiny Internet of Things processors to server farms. Oddly enough, Nvidia will continue to use RISC-V, a competing CPU architecture, for a number of small processors used in its GPU and other products.
Arm’s IP licensing business will remain unchanged. Nvidia wants its Rolodex for existing customers
The other elephant in the room is the result of Nvidia in the US buying Arm from the UK. Especially when it comes to doing business with partners based in China. Arm’s Simon Segars notes that most of Arm’s intellectual property is held in the UK and much of the remainder is located outside of the US and therefore not covered by US export rules. This won’t change after you buy Nvidia.
Nvidia also wants to ensure its commitment to Arm’s UK base by investing in a new AI data center in the city of Cambridge. The website will include an arm-powered supercomputer and facilities for AI researchers, scientists and startups. The overall message is that it will continue as normal for Arm, but we won’t know for sure until the ink is dry.
What this means for future smartphones
All current smartphone SoCs are built using Arm CPU and other technologies, so this deal has a significant impact on future mobile processors. Arm’s high profile partners include Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung, and more. With the IP situation unchanged, these companies will still have access to Arm’s existing and future component designs, as well as their architecture licenses. For mobile SoC designers, this is business as usual. Whether these companies are happy with the profits flowing to their rivals remains to be seen.
Perhaps more interesting is that Nvidia will gain a foothold in the PC CPU sector. With Apple’s switch to in-house Arm PC processors and the growth of Windows on Arm, Nvidia is expanding the battle for Intel and AMD on PCs and servers. If we are on the brink of a major shift in PC dynamics from Arm to x86, the time to buy Nvidia is perfect.
Arm versus x86: Instruction sets, architecture and all important differences are explained
Nvidia is best known for its graphics processors. Therefore, the question for mobile enthusiasts is whether future SoCs could contain GPUs developed by the green team. The Tegra chips that supply the Nintendo Switch with power already show Nvidia graphics with a TDP of 7.5 to 15 W, and the Jetson Nano board from Nvidia brings its Maxwell architecture to just 5 W. The improved efficiency newer Turing and Ampere architectures may meet the 5W requirements of smartphones. So yes, smartphones with Nvidia graphics are definitely possible.
Don’t bet on seeing a smartphone with an Nvidia GPU anytime soon.
Even so, Huang confirmed that Arm’s existing Mali graphics solutions are going nowhere. Mali has a wide range of use cases, from TVs to smartwatches, and Nvidia is not going to force existing Arm customers to switch to a new IP. However, there are plans to introduce new options for customers who want access to Nvidia’s rich ecosystem of accelerated computing, games, and other tools. Just don’t bet you’ll see a smartphone with an Nvidia GPU anytime soon.
It’s also worth noting that Qualcomm has an in-house Adreno GPU team and Samsung has signed a deal with AMD for future chipsets. As a result, there is currently no obvious high-end partner for smartphone SoCs with Nvidia graphics. We just have to wait and see what Nvidia brings to the table for use cases below 5 W in the coming years.
AI everywhere: a shared corporate vision
While Nvidia is keen to convince experts, partners, and regulators that things are largely business as usual for Arm, the company isn’t just interested in banking some of the world’s most important intellectual property rights. Just like SoftBank, Nvidia is so interested in Arm because of its current position and its wider potential to power the highly connected world of the Internet of Things.
Arm’s RISC processor design and developer ecosystem have made it a major processor player, from power hungry data servers to tiny battery-powered edge devices. Nvidia aims to leverage Arm’s ecosystem to incorporate its industry-leading AI processing capabilities into this range of products. With the combination of IP, license experience and investment potential, Arm / Nvidia is a central point of contact for the AI technologies of tomorrow.
See also: Nvidia Jetson Xavier NX Review: Redefining GPU Accelerated Machine Learning
This is, of course, a longer-term outlook that will have an impact over the next decade. In the meantime, Nvidia needs to balance the expectations of Arm’s existing customers with a drive to corner the future AI market. This may not be an easy task if existing partners decide to reevaluate their options in light of this purchase. It is now up to regulators to decide whether this game is in the best interests of the tech industry.