It almost shocked everyone when NVIDIA announced that there were going to acquire ARM Holdings. This is the company responsible for the ARM instruction set, and it is one of the most widely used processor architectures in the entire world. It shocked the world because many people are trying to make sense of why NVIDIA decided to do this. It also shocked people because NVIDIA already had an ARM license and could produce their own processors without any problems. No one knows what NVIDIA’s plan is, but it is going to affect a lot of companies, and they will need to understand what will happen with the architecture going forward. One of the biggest companies that it will affect is Apple.
ARM is a company and an instruction set. It is important to differentiate between the two because they both have their place in the conversation about the acquisition. The company is a major British fabless semiconductor corporation. They create the instruction sets and also license out basic implementations of these instruction sets. Think of the ARM ISA as a specification from which you can create real products. The company licenses out this specification and also their own implementation. In this context, you also need to know that the ARM architecture is ubiquitous in the mobile space.
The ARM architecture is the most widely used computer architecture in the entire world. Every mobile device uses this architecture, and it is quite prevalent in the embedded space. It is also making its way into the server space. Companies love the ARM architecture because there is already so much code for it, and the architecture is very energy efficient. It is a RISC ISA, which compares favorably to the x86 architecture, which is CISC. What all this means is that the ARM architecture is the perfect choice for creating small energy-efficient mobile devices such as what your smartphone needs.
What makes the ARM architecture so important is the fact that almost every mobile device uses it. The modern world is built on the mobile computing revolution, and it is almost impossible to survive today without such a device. The hardware that powers all of these devices is built from the ARM architecture. Apple is one of the most popular companies globally, but almost all the mobile devices it makes are built on the ARM architecture.
It is in this frame that you have to consider why they would be terrified of the acquisition. The acquisition also terrifies entire countries, such as what you see with China. The largest roadblock to completing this acquisition for NVIDIA will be with the Chinese regulatory agency. Companies are unsure about what NVIDIA will do once they have complete control over the company and architecture, so they are worried about what is possible.
Apple recently announced that it is moving away from x86 to ARM in their laptops and iMac. The recent news that NVIDIA would be acquiring ARM might have them rethinking that decision. ARM has been really good to Apple in this sense that they are now one of the best microprocessor designers in the entire world. They designed their own processors for the iPhone and iPad. In fact, the processors they designed consistently ranked as the most powerful ARM SOCs is available in the industry. This is why they are worried about NVIDIA acquiring ARM. Apple is a one trillion dollar company, and they are almost entirely built on this one architecture. They have a lot to lose if NVIDIA decides not to maintain the openness that ARM is known for.
Apple is now confident that their ARM implementation for the iPhone is actually powerful enough to match the likes of Intel and AMD. This is why they decided to move from Intel processors to ARM for their smallest notebooks. However, the news that NVIDIA is going to acquire ARM might cause a lot of doubts for them. However, in the short-term, they have no option but to continue full steam ahead with this move. They have already committed to making this move, and they have even designed and have processors in manufacturing for these notebooks.
The recent leaks have said that these processors are fast enough to compete with Intel processors. It also means that they now have full control over their entire hardware stack. They can fine-tune their software to work better with ARM microprocessors than they could with Intel. They can create a synergy that enables their products to work even better than they did before. This is why they made this move, and it is what they are counting on to give them dominance in the laptop market.
The speculation is that NVIDIA is acquiring ARM to compete more in the server space. They need control over their own microprocessor architecture to produce high-powered devices to challenge Intel in servers. They also have the incentive to try to get their graphics processing units into more system-on-chips. The SOC market is a multibillion-dollar market, and there is an opportunity to produce low-power graphics processors for this market. If NVIDIA can integrate their graphics processing units into these ARM-based systems, they could potentially create a new market for themselves. The PC gaming market keeps shrinking, and they need a way to keep growing their stock price. This is a great way to do it, and they also get control over the most popular computer architecture in the entire world.
NVIDIA has said that they will not change anything regarding licensing for the ARM instruction set. In the short-term, this means that nothing will change for Apple, and they will have equal access to the architecture to create their MacBook processors. However, the long term might be bleak if NVIDIA does not uphold their end of the bargain. They have promised that they would change nothing in regards to how ARM licensing will go. The key will be whether Apple and other businesses are willing to put their faith in the hands of NVIDIA. NVIDIA is known as a company that will ruthlessly destroy the competition, and they are also known to be challenging to work with.
Companies are already looking for alternatives to ARM because of this acquisition. It is highly likely that ARM will suffer in the short-term and long-term. However, there aren’t many options currently available, and these companies are stuck relying on NVIDIA’s good graces. Ultimately, NVIDIA will have to pass through the regulatory process to get this deal done.
The RISCV microarchitecture is going to be the big winner in all this debacle. This is an open instruction set, and there is no licensing fee. In the long term, we will see this instruction set gaining more popularity, and it might even overtake ARM in certain industries.