ARM: UK-based chip designer sold to Nvidia

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By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

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UK-based computer chip designer ARM Holdings is being sold to the American graphics chip specialist Nvidia.

The $40bn (£30.8bn) cash-and-stock deal has been struck by the firm’s current owner, Japanese tech conglomerate Softbank, four years after it acquired the company for $32bn.

ARM’s tech is at the heart of most smartphones, among many other devices.

Nvidia said the takeover would create “the premier computing company for the age of artificial intelligence” (AI).

“ARM will remain headquartered in Cambridge,” added a statement from the US firm’s chief executive Jensen Huang.

“We will expand on this great site and build a world-class AI research facility, supporting developments in healthcare, life sciences, robotics, self-driving cars and other fields.”

This appears to address concerns that British jobs would be lost and decision-making shifted to the US. Last week, the Labour Party had urged the government to intervene.

But two of the company’s co-founders had also raised other issues about the takeover.

Hermann Hauser and Tudor Brown had suggested ARM should remain “neutral”, rather than be owned by a company like Nvidia, which produces its own processors.

The concern is that there would be a conflict of interest since ARM’s clients would become dependent on a business with which many also compete for sales.

Moreover, the two co-founders also claimed that once ARM was owned by an American firm, Washington could try to block Chinese companies from using its knowhow as part of a wider trade clash between the countries.

Chip creators

ARM creates computer chip designs that others then customise to their own ends. It also develops instruction sets, which define how software controls processors.

It is based in Cambridge but also has offices across the world, including a joint venture in Shenzhen, China.

Hundreds of companies license its innovations including Apple, Samsung, Huawei and Qualcomm.

When Softbank acquired ARM, it promised to keep the company’s headquarters in the UK and to increase the number of local jobs, which it did.

California-headquartered Nvidia overtook Intel to become the world’s most valuable chipmaker in July.

Until now, it has specialised in high end graphics processing units (GPUs). These are commonly used by gamers to deliver more detailed visuals, as well as by professionals for tasks including scientific research, machine learning, and cryptocurrency “mining”.

But Nvidia is also one of ARM’s clients, using its designs to create its line-up of Tegra computer processing units (CPUs).

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