Four years after buying Arm Holdings for $32 billion, Softbank is selling Arm to NVIDIA for $40 billion. It’s the most expensive deal in the semiconductor space to date, and it would put NVIDIA in control of the technology that powers most of the world’s smartphones and a growing number of other devices.

Qualcomm, Samsung, Apple and many other companies license Arm technologies for smartphone and tablet chips. Some recent Windows devices also use Qualcomm’s Arm-based processors. And Apple plans to begin selling Arm-based Mac computer soon.

NVIDIA is probably best known for its graphics processors, but the company has also licensed Arm designs for chips like the Tegra X1 processor that powers the Nintendo Switch.

The company says it will continue Arm’s current business model of licensing designs to other customers. And Arm will continue to be based on Cambridge, UK. But NVIDIA plans to expand Arm’s research & development, build a new “AI supercomputer for groundbreaking research” using Arm and NVIDIA technology, and work on technologies for “computing from the cloud, smartphones, PCs, self-driving cars, robotics, 5G, and IoT.”

The companies say it will likely take about a year and a half for the acquisition to be completed, because, among other things, it will need to be approved by regulators in the UK, US, China, and the European Union.

It’ll be interesting to see what those regulators have to say. Technically Arm and NVIDIA are not direct competitors, since Arm licenses chip designs, but does not make its own processors, while NVIDIA designs and produces its own chips. But if the deal goes through, NVIDIA will be both competing with chip companies like Qualcomm, and licensing its designs to them.

And if the deal does pass muster with regulators, will chip makers that are currently licensing Arm designs look elsewhere?

Update: Unsurprisingly, reports of disgruntled Arm customers are already starting to pop up.

via NVIDIA (1)(2)(3), Arm, Forbes, and Techmeme

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  1. I hope this takes us back to the times where there were more competing SOC’s in the phone/mobile segment. As it is now everything is Snapdragon and it’s GPU’s always seems to trump ARM’s GPU offering for years. An Arm CPU and NVIDIA GPU combo could change this. But that’s essentially what the Tegra SOC was and it still flopped so i don’t know.

    1. We already have an ARM CPU with an Nvidia GPU. The entire Tegra SOC lineup.

      We can’t necessarily say that this Nvidia ownership will be a good thing for competition in the ARM segment. This could result in anti-competitive behaviour from Nvidia, with the designer of the architecture also being in direct competition with its own partners.

      But for all we know, they might be willing to split their company to show good faith. We’ll have to wait and see.

  2. Meanwhile, among those who don’t have any say in the matter, speculation runs wild, nobody knows what any of this means, people pointless divide themselves into camps and start swearing that they know that this is all wrong or this is the best thing ever, or just yelling at each other for “wrong” speculation.
    All I can see is that whoever wins, we lose.

    1. I appreciate the cynicism of big companies and their big interests, but I still a believer in ARM as the big player in RISC tech vs. CISC.