Qualcomm’s custom Arm processors for Windows PCs are coming late next year
Back in January 2021, Qualcomm acquired Nuvia, a company that was set to bolster its efforts in making custom Arm processors. Right out of the gate, Qualcomm was pretty straightforward about its plans. It was going to use these chips to compete against Apple’s M1 processors, and the first ones would begin sampling to OEMs in the second half of 2022 for Windows on Arm laptops. During the company’s earnings call today, CEO Cristiano Amon confirmed that the firm is on track for products to ship in late 2023, about a year after they’ll start sampling.
There are pretty much two ways that a processor can be made. One is to license the architecture and design from Arm, which is what companies like Qualcomm and MediaTek do. You get cores like Cortex X2, Cortex A710, and so on. Those are assembled into a package that usually resembles Arm’s reference design. The other option is to use the instruction set and design your own cores, which is what Apple does, and it’s what Qualcomm is going to be doing when the Nuvia technology comes to market.
And according to the San Diego firm, this is what it’s going to need to compete with Apple’s M1. However, it also puts Qualcomm in a much better space with OEMs. You might realize that if the Nuvia chips are going to be sampled to OEMs in just a few months, then the second half of 2023 seems like a really long time to wait for a product to ship.
This happens because the PC market is slow. With Intel processors, OEMs have the chips in-hand 12 to 18 months out. Now, suddenly this timeline sounds about right.
Unfortunately, this timeline puts Qualcomm in a rough spot. With mobile processors, Arm announces its new designs in the beginning of the year and Qualcomm announces a chip based on it at the end of the year. That’s why the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 uses Cortex X2. However, the new Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 still uses Cortex X1.
Intel and Apple don’t have this problem because everything is developed in-house. Intel can sample its chips whenever it wants because it’s not waiting on another company to design them first. That’s what changes for Qualcomm with the Nuvia technology. It gets to own the full stack of hardware development.
Make no mistake, Qualcomm is going to have some catching up to do. If the chip that ships in late 2023 is the one that’s going to compete with Apple’s M1, and Apple is already shipping the M2, then Qualcomm is still behind despite years of a head start. Still, this technology is what’s going to give the company the tools that it needs to compete.
If you’re hoping what will presumably be called the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 4 is announced at Snapdragon Summit this December, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath. If it is, you’ll have to wait a while before we see a shipping product.
This technology is going to come to mobile too. Qualcomm has been clear since the day that it announced the Nuvia acquisition that this technology is going to come to its computing portfolio first, and that this is the chip that will compete with Apple’s M1, but that’s not where the technology ends. You should start seeing custom processors across the entire portfolio, but of course, if the PC chip is coming in late 2023, mobile wouldn’t arrive in products until 2024 at least.