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Making Sense of The Nvidia-Arm Acquisition

Last week, I wrote about the Nvidia-Arm acquisition, the politics involved as well as its chances of success. Nvidia announced last September that it reached a deal with Softbank to acquire U.K. based semiconductor and software design company Arm Ltd. for $40 billion, making it one of the biggest acquisitions in tech.

Behemoths like Google and Microsoft are opposed to the deal, which requires approval from authorities in at least four governments, including the U.S., U.K., E.U., and China. Qualcomm is fighting the acquisition, as the company relies heavily on Arm for microprocessor intellectual property (IP).

For reference, the name Arm stands for “Acorn RISC Machine” and comes from founders Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber discovering that a CPU can run faster on a small set of instructions. The discovery these two made in the early 1980s was to let the operating system break down tasks rather than add more instructions to the processor. While most CPU designs were adding more instructions to chips, Arm patented the technique of using fewer instructions that run more quickly and efficiently. Due to power constraints of the mobile device, which was introduced much later, Arm found a massive market where it dominates at 90%.

The company works quietly in the background with 22 billion chips shipped globally in 2019 and a cumulative total of 166 billion chips in 2019. The company hit 180 billion chips as of the press release on the acquisition.

Revenue is generated from licenses for Arm’s technology and royalties that come from the subsequent sale of the licensees’ chips that contain Arm’s technology. To compare, Nvidia announced it had shipped 1 billion processors in 2011 and there has not been an update for the 2 billion mark yet, with estimates of Nvidia’s shipments hitting around 100 million chips per year.

Arm is most dominant in mobile with 90% market share in mobile processors, and dominates in-vehicle infotainment and advanced-driver assistance system (ADAS) processor market at 75%. The overall share of Arm’s related markets is 34%.

Arm-based technology is found in electronic devices and PCs, including Microsoft’s Arm-based Surface and Apple’s custom CPUs for Macs. The majority of tablets and digital TVs also use Arm’s architecture.

In fact, Arm offers the most popular CPU architecture in the world. The company’s dominant market share is achieved through its developer ecosystem, which fits neatly into one of our primary theses for Nvidia, its GPU-powered cloud and developer ecosystem.

Arm will bring an estimated 15 million software programmers to Nvidia. In Nvidia’s recent earnings report, the company announced it had doubled from 1 million to 2 million developers – so Arm increases Nvidia’s reach by 7X.

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    One Comment

    1. EC EC

      Excellent and very thorough article. “Artificial intelligence could be the breaking point, in my opinion. Product-wise, this acquisition can advance the United States through artificial intelligence, which is an important element to defense and global dominance. To leave that decision up to our competitor seems illogical.”

      This is such a key factor most emotional reactions to the acquisition don’t consider. Always a pleasure to read your thoughtful comnentary.

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