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Former Apple execs take aim at Intel and AMD’s x86 server dominance

Nuvia

There’s a new chip designer in town, Nuvia – and it’s hoping to take on Intel and AMD in the data centre. This plucky start-up was founded only earlier this year, yet it’s already perked the interest of some of the tech biz’s most influential people and net itself $53 million to develop its first processor, codename Phoenix, to challenge x86’s server rack domination.

Nuvia plans on taking the chip designs most often found in mobile chips for battery-powered devices, and applying them to the peta-scale data centre enterprise world (via Reuters). It’s a familiar tale, and ARM devices have been occasionally operated in lieu of x86 systems built by their exclusive fabricators, Intel and AMD.

So what makes this company stand out among a wave of hopeful and talented companies attempting the same thing? For one, the founding trio is comprised of Gerard Williams III, the chief architect of Apple’s custom iPhone and iPad processors; Manu Gulati, Apple’s chief SoC architect; and John Bruno, an ex-Apple chip expert. Oh, and two of them also jumped ship from Alphabet, where they were helping Google materialise its chip ambitions.

Nuvia has net $53 million in series A investment, including significant sums from Dell Technologies Capital.

“NUVIA’s founders bring a rich silicon design heritage, having held a diverse array of engineering leadership roles at Google, Apple, ARM, Broadcom and AMD,” a press release on the Nuvia website says.

The ARM ISA (instruction set architecture) is likely at the foundation of Nuvia’s ambition, created by Cambridge-based Arm Holdings. Other RISC architectures include RISC-V and Power ISA, the basis for IBM’s own POWER9 server chips.

Industry analyst Patrick Moorhead is also keen on Nuvia’s potential to disrupt the server market.

AMD and Intel are currently engaged in a heated tussle in the server market, with the former attempting to dislodge the latter’s overwhelming data centre stranglehold. AMD’s latest Zen 2 EPYC chips are doing a great job of disrupting Intel in the market so far, but it, like anyone else attempting to enter the server market, has a long way to go to do more than ruffle Intel’s feathers.

Could there by room for an outsider to barge its way into the market? Little is known about Nuvia’s Phoenix chip today, but, if the positive reaction from analysts is anything to go on, it’s certain to get engineers on all sides fired up and bringing their best.

At least the best CPUs for gaming appears resolutely x86 for the foreseeable future.

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