Qualcomm planning ARM-based server processor?

If Qualcomm is working on a server processor, it likely will be for accelerators such as smartNICs.

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Qualcomm may be preparing for another run that the data-center market with a new line of Arm-based processors for servers, according Bloomberg.

The company is reportedly seeking customers to test a product from Nuvia, a semiconductor startup it purchased last year that was founded by the former head of Apple CPU development.

A spokesperson for Qualcomm said that Qualcomm expects to integrate “next generation CPUs across a wide portfolio of products, including powering flagship smartphones, laptops, and digital cockpits, as well as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, extended reality, and infrastructure networking solutions.”

Qualcomm has previously tried and failed to get in on the Arm server market with a processor called Centriq. It was launched with much hoopla in 2017 and discontinued one year later.

Qualcomm wasn't alone. There were multiple Arm-based server processors in the works in the latter part of the last decade, and pretty much all of them have fallen by the wayside. That’s because interest in Arm stemmed from a desire to have an alternative to Intel, and in 2016, AMD wasn’t a viable alternative. Then, AMD CEO Lisa Su waved a magic wand, and an Epyc processor rebirth began. With AMD now a viable alternative Intel, interest in the Arm faded out.

Jim McGregor, principal analyst with Tirias Research, believes that Qualcomm will use the Nuvia technology to pursue the endpoints/client market of laptops and tablets first, and then it will go after the server market in a few years, especially because Nuvia was focused on servers. “The data center’s kind of a long-term goal for them. But it's not the focus right now. And I wouldn't expect something immediately,” he said.

McGregor doesn’t think Qualcomm will position any future data-center processor as an alternative to Intel and AMD. “Nobody I know ever wanted a standard Arm server in place of an x86,” he said.

Instead, Arm-based servers would be used for dedicated processes such as streaming, transaction processing, or improving throughput via data-processing units/smart NICs.

“It would be a custom CPU core, based on the Nuvia architecture.That is definite. But what they target with it? I don't know,” McGregor said.

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