Everything you need to know about the new custom silicon

Everything you need to know about the new custom silicon

Quick links

  • What Qualcomm Oryon is not
  • When is the release date of Qualcomm Oryon products?

At Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, it announced the Oryon. However, it didn’t say much else, such as what we can expect from the new CPU cores, exactly what they are, and so on. This left some people with questions, and thankfully we have answers.


What is Qualcomm Oryon?

Oryon is the name of the CPU cores in certain upcoming chipsets from Qualcomm. What differentiates these from the Kryo cores that the company uses now is that these are custom Arm cores.

Back in January 2021, Qualcomm acquired a company called Nuvia. Nuvia was working on custom Arm silicon, and Qualcomm wanted it so it could better compete with Apple, which also makes custom chips. The reason the messages get a little messy is because, well, Qualcomm doesn’t want to say the word “Nuvia” anymore.

Nuvia does not exist. When asked if the Oryon was the Nuvia chip, a spokesperson said: “The creation of our custom CPU was started by Nuvia engineers while employed by Nuvia, and after the acquisition of Nuvia by Qualcomm Technologies, the custom CPU was completed by engineers at Qualcomm Technologies .” It might sound like two different teams worked on it, but to be very clear, all that happened was that the Nuvia engineers became Qualcomm engineers.

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The way Qualcomm’s processors currently work is by licensing the cores from Arm. That’s why you’ll hear terms like Cortex-X3, Cortex-A715, Cortex-A710 and Cortex-A510 when it comes to Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. These are all cores designed by Arm. In MediaTek’s Dimensity 9200, the performance core is also Cortex-X3, so in many ways these CPUs are similar.

With Oryon, Qualcomm uses an architectural license. That means Arm will license the instruction set to Qualcomm, which will be Armv9 at this point, and then Qualcomm will build the architecture on its own. There are no more Cortex cores, since Qualcomm is doing to design them themselves. All Oryon needs to do is speak the same language.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Qualcomm has designed its own Arm processor, although it is the first to be 64-bit. Back in the old days with the Snapdragon 800 and before that, Krait was developed with an architectural license. It was with the Snapdragon 808 and Snapdragon 810 that the San Diego firm switched to Arm designs with Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57.

What Qualcomm Oryon is not

Qualcomm Oryon is not a product. It’s not a chip, but instead it’s just part of a chip. In fact, it is more of a component of a component of a chipset, since it is only part of the processor.

It’s also nothing more than a CPU core. For example, Oryon cores cannot be displayed in GPU or DSP. That’s not how it works. In fact, Qualcomm already makes a custom GPU and DSP with Adreno and Hexagon respectively.

When is the release date of Qualcomm Oryon products?

When Qualcomm first acquired Nuvia, it said the first chip would start trialling to OEMs in the second half of 2022, and we’d start seeing it in products in the second half of 2023. That doesn’t seem to be moving as well quickly as Qualcomm would have liked, though the company says it’s still on track to try by the end of the year. But given the one-year timeframe before shipping and the company’s commitment to not announcing a chipset unless a product is ready to ship within 90 days, you can expect the first SoC to include Oryon cores to be announced on next year’s Snapdragon Summit, airing in early 2024.

Person using Snapdragon 8cx Reference Design
Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 reference design

Snapdragon 8cx reference design

President and CEO Cristiano Amon has been talking about these custom chips since the company acquired Nuvia and how they will allow the company to compete with Apple Silicon. Unsurprisingly, that means the first Oryon chipsets will be for computing, appearing in high-end Windows on Arm laptops. It’s my understanding that this should be a significant hardware launch, with a wide variety of OEMs included, including at least one that hasn’t made a Windows on Arm laptop before.

After that, Oryon is certainly going to go to mobile, along with other verticals that Qualcomm covers. Since the chipset is likely to be announced at Snapdragon Summit 2023, it stands to reason that the Oryon mobile chipset will come in the form of a Snapdragon 8 Gen 4 at Snapdragon Summit 2024, but that’s just an educated guess. And while the Oryon will start at the premium level, it’s likely to find its way across more of the portfolio.

Why you should care

As we’ve known since Quacomm bought Nuvia, this is huge, and it’s huge for the Windows ecosystem as a whole. One reason is that Qualcomm can now own the entire development stack of its processors. You see, licensing Arm’s processor designs means that a good eight to 10 months before a new chipset is announced, we have a good idea of ​​what kind of cores will be included. With Qulcomm designing the Oryon from the ground up, it can work the same way Intel, AMD and Apple do.

That means it can trial Oryon-based chips with OEMs a good 12 to 18 months in advance as the companies want, and Qualcomm can keep them under lock and key until they’re ready to unveil them. And maybe it will allow Qualcomm to have a big bang product launch like Intel and AMD have every year, where they launch new mobile processors at a show like CES and there are tons of laptops announced alongside them.

Black mini-PC with monitor connected
Snapdragon powered Windows Dev Kit 2023

So there’s a reason you should care, that it allows Qualcomm to really compete with rivals like Intel, AMD and Apple by sharing a model. You should also care because these chips will unlock new features in Windows laptops.

I recently wrote an op-ed about my general frustration with the Windows landscape. Ultimately, what we want from PCs is performance, battery life, good thermals (everyone hates noisy fans), for it to work with all our apps and peripherals, and a slim and light form factor. Nobody does all these things. Intel and AMD have performance, but for battery life and fanless design, go Qualcomm. Compatibility is another area where x86, meaning Intel and AMD, wins.

In the general computing landscape, Apple is the only one that does all of this. Apple’s range of Macs with custom Arm processors have the performance you need to do some creative work, the battery life lasts all day, thermals are good enough to make devices that simply can’t be done with an Intel processor, and of course , the Cupertino firm has enough control over its ecosystem that it was able to align apps and peripherals.

This is the kind of hardware we can expect to see from the Qualcomm Oryon. We’ve already seen rumors of a 12-core chip that has eight performance cores and four efficiency cores, so the future is going to look pretty interesting. In short, the reason you should care about this is because it’s the foundation for Qualcomm to be behind some of the best laptops to hit the market in 2024.

And as mentioned above, Qualcomm Oryon is coming to mobile as well. Of course, it is far enough away that there is no information about it right now.

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