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Qualcomm teases custom Arm-compatible Oryon CPU cores designed by Nuvia

Snapdragon giant flips off Softbank, promises processors within next two years

Qualcomm intends to ship processors within the next two years using custom Arm-compatible CPU cores designed in house by its acquired Nuvia team.

These cores will be arranged in clusters and marketed under a new brand: Oryon. Thus future Qualcomm Snapdragon processors will use these Oryon cores, or so Qualcomm hopes. These chips will be aimed at Windows-on-Arm laptops as well as mobile devices and other types of systems.

The US chip designer had hoped to have samples of Oryon-powered silicon in the hands of PC makers by now but wasn't able to. We're told these components are now due to ship in products by the end of 2023 or early 2024. That's a bit of a delay for those looking forward to Qualcomm's next generation of microprocessors for laptops and PCs.

Today's Qualcomm Snapdragon system-on-chips use Kryo CPU units, which are made up of cores designed by and licensed from Arm. Qualcomm in the past designed its own custom Arm-compatible cores, and lately has relied on off-the-shelf Arm cores. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, launched just yesterday, uses standard Arm Cortex cores.

Qualcomm is likely hoping its custom cores, tailored and architectured just the way it wants them, will allow it to better compete against processors used in other portable systems, such as Macs with Apple's custom silicon. The move to custom cores cuts out Arm to a large extent, and gives Qualcomm greater control over its hardware and software stack. No further details were given about Oryon, which was teased at Qualcomm's Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii today.

Oryon was, we're told, designed by Nuvia, the Silicon Valley startup Qualcomm bought for $1.4 billion in 2021. Nuvia was creating custom Arm-compatible CPU cores for servers but its designs can be adapted for other markets, such as personal computing. The engineers working on those blueprints, and the designs themselves, were absorbed into Qualcomm, which made it clear it wanted to use Nuvia's technology and know-how to drive its future chips.

Indeed, Oryon was teased on stage in the past hour by Nuvia cofounder and semiconductor world veteran Gerard Williams

As we've previously covered, Arm isn't happy with this situation. In a lawsuit against Qualcomm filed earlier this year, Arm claimed Qualcomm needed to obtain Arm's permission to transfer in and use Nuvia's designs, as per the fine print in Nuvia's license with Arm to use its architecture.

Qualcomm didn't obtain this consent, according to Arm, and so Arm terminated Nuvia's licence and demanded all the Nuvia designs be destroyed and not used in new products. 

The Snapdragon goliath said it complied with this demand, but Arm is concerned that Nuvia's Arm-derived blueprints and technologies are still in use at Qualcomm. If that's so, says Arm, Qualcomm would be in breach of its own licenses with Arm, which means Arm may cancel all of Qualcomm's rights to use its technologies, which would be a major problem: Qualcomm still relies on Arm-licensed cores and architecture for its chips.

Qualcomm has, in response, argued that Arm wanted to exploit this situation – the requirement for permission – to extract extra fees and higher royalties from Qualcomm, and that this consent wasn't needed anyway. Arm says consent is needed, and so the pair are at an impasse.

Softbank-owned Arm is suing Qualcomm for breach of contract, and is demanding all of Nuvia's Arm-derived designs are binned and not used in things like, say, Oryon.

Arm has cited Qualcomm's claims in the media that it intends to use Nuvia's technologies as the basis of its complaint that Qualcomm is breaking its agreements with Arm.

Now Qualcomm executives have gone on stage, in a livestreamed keynote, and bragged how its Nuvia team has produced for the Snapdragon line "world-class" CPU cores that will take on the competition. Qualcomm didn't out and out say it was using the contested Nuvia blueprints.

The stakes in this legal fight continue to grow. ®

Full disclosure: Qualcomm paid for this correspondent's flights and accommodation to cover the Snapdragon Summit in Maui, Hawaii, today, though as should be abundantly clear from our past, current, and future coverage, this will have no effect on our independent reporting.

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