Qualcomm getting fresh competition for Arm-based Windows PCs

Comment As Qualcomm fights to keep its license agreements to develop next-generation Arm chips for Windows PCs, the American chip designer is getting a fresh reminder that it will eventually face competition from a top rival in the East.

Taiwanese chip designer MediaTek recently proposed plans to break up Qualcomm’s hold on Arm-based Windows PCs, providing a few more details after the company first disclosed its intentions last fall.

MediaTek reported on Monday it will tackle the Windows on Arm ecosystem with a variant of its Kompanio mobile processor, which is currently used for Chromebooks. The company also plans to integrate its technology for 5G radios, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and display engines in system-on-chips for Windows PCs.

In one statement, Vince Hu, veep of Compute Business Unit at MediaTek, seemed to suggest that the company plans to increase research and development spending to build out CPU and GPU capabilities worthy of high-performance applications.

This would contrast with Qualcomm’s changing Windows on Arm strategy. The American chip designer plans to phase out CPUs using off-the-shelf core designs from Arm in favor of custom cores gained from its 2021 acquisition of Nuvia.

However, Arm is threatening Qualcomm’s custom core plans with a lawsuit, which seeks to destroy Qualy’s Nuvia technology for allegedly breaching its licenses.

While the prospect of MediaTek breaking up Qualcomm’s Windows on Arm monopoly is welcome to some, it likely won’t happen anytime soon. Company execs said they viewed the PC market as a “long-term” opportunity and failed to provide any details on a timeline.

The unknown timeline for MediaTek’s entry into Windows PCs, combined with the Arm-Qualcomm lawsuit, isn’t exactly ideal for Arm’s ambitions in the Windows PC market. The category is currently a niche, thanks to Qualcomm’s current Snapdragon PC chips, which have been considered lackluster, even with a decent performance boost in the most recent generation.

It’s true that Qualcomm is hoping to fix this by using the custom Nuvia cores for next-generation Snapdragon processors. But if those efforts are stalled by its lawsuit with Arm, that could mean we’d have to wait longer for buzzworthy Arm-compatible chips.

And that, in turn, would continue to prop up x86 CPUs made by Intel and AMD, plus Apple’s Arm-based M-series chips for Macs. ®

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