It seems that, after a lot of controversy, the ARM holdings have found a new stop. If nothing changes, NVIDIA will officially announce the acquisition of the chip design company from Softbank for $ 40 billion on Monday.
Previously, Softbank is said to have decided to sell ARM to reduce the damage caused by investments in WeWork or Uber. Many giants like Samsung, Foxconn and TSMC are said to have attempted to buy ARM, but NVIDIA has always been the name most mentioned. The $ 40 billion price tag will give Softbank a $ 8 billion profit compared to the $ 32 billion price it spent in 2016 to own ARM.
And sure enough, this move will trigger a scuffle in the tech world.
Would Samsung and Qualcomm want ARM to take on a company that was once their direct rival?
The first reason everyone knows is because ARM is small but has so much influence on the chip industry. Currently, the chips A of Apple, Snapdragon of Qualcomm, Exynos of Samsung, Helio / Dimensity of MediaTek … are customized based on ARM’s design. NVIDIA is primarily known for its AI hardware or graphics card products, but is also involved in mobile devices: in 2013, billionaire Jen Hsun-Huang’s company launched the Tegra line of chips to compete with Snapdragon.
Although Tegra has not been able to win a foothold on smartphones and tablets, the chip is still being used on the Nintendo Switch right now. In essence, Tegra is a direct competitor of Snapdragon and Helio. NVIDIA’s role in the mobile chip’s lifecycle is no different than that of Qualcomm and MediaTek: buying ARM’s reference design, customizing it, hiring outsourcing companies (like TSMC or Samsung) and then selling the product. for phone manufacturers.
With ARM in hand, NVIDIA will slip into the life cycle of rival chips. There is also no guarantee that, once in hand, NVIDIA will not seek to return to the mobile market, which sells approximately 1.5 billion devices per year.
What has happened to Qualcomm and Samsung shows that ARM will most likely be weaponized by NVIDIA.
Even if NVIDIA does not bring Tegra back to compete in the mobile market, its acquisition of ARM will worry mobile chip design / maker companies. The lifecycle of the Snapdragon and Exynos chips will suddenly appear another chip company that is notorious for not knowing “play nice”. In 2013, NVIDIA brought the Kepler architecture to a franchise. When Qualcomm and Samsung refused to license the architecture, they were brought to court by NVIDIA on allegations of infringing patents on mobile GPU designs.
Samsung then sued. In 2014, a judge in the US even ruled that Samsung not only did not infringe on NVIDIA’s patents but also was violated by NVIDIA … In 2016, the two sides reached agreement with the franchise agreement, NVIDIA’s lawsuit against Qualcomm was also removed.
Marginal sources claim that Apple was nearly dragged to court by NVIDIA just like Samsung and Qualcomm. Given that Apple has a nearly invincible legal apparatus, NVIDIA seems to falter at the last minute. But, almost certainly NVIDIA made the same unreasonable demands as it did with Qualcomm and Samsung. Apple is not a middleman, and soon after completely phasing out NVIDIA from the Mac. macOS by last year was no longer any trace of NVIDIA at all.
If cornered, the big players trying to give up ARM is not unimaginable.
Certainly, the troubles surrounding NVIDIA still remain in the mind of Apple, Samsung and Qualcomm, and these companies will take action to appeal when NVIDIA announced that they bought ARM. In the worst case scenario – ARM went to NVIDIA and was used against the mobile giants, perhaps the future of this platform on mobile chips will be at stake. In the mobile market, another open source architecture, RISC-V, is promising many of the same benefits as ARM. The RISC-V’s biggest weakness is that there’s no technological power behind it – all are still enjoying the benefits of ARM at a reasonable price.
When that price is no longer reasonable, Apple will have enough reason to develop its own chip architecture from RISC-V. The development of alternatives for ARM is “inconvenient”, but still completely within the reach of the Apple family: Tim Cook’s company has recently reached the threshold of $ 2 trillion in capitalization, cash reserves are still At over $ 100 billion, revenue has steadily increased despite Covid-19. Apple used to switch Macs from PowerPC to Intel x86 and now to Apple Silicon. For a giant of this size, nothing is impossible.
Google also has enough capacity to reduce its reliance on ARM. Like Apple, revenue one quarter Google’s enough to take over ARM. Android was developed from Linux, which is an operating system that is relatively independent of the chip architecture. Around 2013, Google also publicly cooperated with Intel to bring Atom chips to Android smartphones. Although Atom was not able to succumb to success, this move still shows that Google has the ability to keep the operating system “pet” from being dependent on a single architecture. There is no way Google (and other Android manufacturers) will allow Android hostage to NVIDIA.
What happens when a giant that doesn’t play nice is given a voice in a market of 1.5 billion devices a year?
There were a lot of scenarios that could happen when NVIDIA acquired ARM. Some big names in the chip industry will sue to stop the deal. The US government may take interventions. Or, NVIDIA could successfully take over ARM, forcing other chip makers / designers to switch to RISC-V.
Anything can happen, but the truth is for sure no one wants ARM to go to NVIDIA. Whatever happens next, this will be the starting point for a new “chaos” in the tech world.