Nviai have confirmed that they will acquire UK-based chip designer Arm for $40 billion from current owner Softbank. It will dramatically expand Nvidia’s portfolio to allow them to develop their GPUs, AI compute platforms and more independently from other companies.
Arm is best known for designing the low-powered CPU architecture that have come to power the vast majority of smartphones, tablets, Internet of Things devices and consoles such as the Nintendo Switch. While Arm has designed and sold their own CPU designs, they’ve also licensed the architecture to other companies such as Apple, Samsung and Qualcomm.
With Nvidia’s purchase, Arm’s open-licensing business model will continue, and various long-term licensing agreements would have precluded the company from really interfering in how current devices are created using the Arm instruction sets.
One of the original question marks over Arm’s purchase by Softbank in 2016 was the company’s future in the UK, the Japanese company having to commit to keeping Arm in the UK for at least five years. Nvidia have stated that beyond this they intend to expand Arm’s R&D base in the UK, while also establishing a new centre of AI research in the Cambridge campus.
For Nvidia, the big advantage is the ability to more closely integrate with Arm’s designs. The company has already leant on Arm CPUs for their own mobile chips, such as the Tegra X1 which is featured in the Nintendo Switch, but Nvidia has expanded beyond their original domain as a GPU designer to focus on general compute that enables the creation of AI supercomputers. Arm’s low-powered CPU designs are well suited to being paired with Nvidia’s technology in this setting, and positions Nvidia well for continued growth across healthcare, robotics, self-driving cars and other emerging industries.
However, they could also challenge on other fronts. Integrated SoCs with Arm CPUs and Nvidia GPUs could challenge for a place in many an Android device, while Microsoft have brought Windows 10 to Arm systems once more. This would put Nvidia in direct competition with AMD and Intel’s x86 CPUs, while also being able to partner with them on pure GPUs.
It will take time for all of this to come to fruition, but in one purchase like this, it’s turned Nvidia into an all-round monster of a company that could have an even bigger impact on the future of technology.