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Nvidia already ‘clearly showing it will compete unfairly’, says Arm pioneer

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A photographer taking pictures in front of the logo for British chip designer Arm - SAM YEH/AFP
A photographer taking pictures in front of the logo for British chip designer Arm - SAM YEH/AFP

Nvidia is already “clearly showing it will compete unfairly” against others if its takeover of Arm is allowed through, one of the pioneers behind the British semiconductor company has claimed.

Hermann Hauser, the founder of Arm’s precursor company Acorn, believes that US behemoth Nvidia is already preparing to act in an “anti-competitive way” after the company announced plans for a microchip that combines its technology with Arm’s.

The UK competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), is already investigating the deal on national security grounds, on the orders of Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

Mr Dowden will have to decide whether to block the deal or introduce limitations to ring-fence parts of the business, based on either public interest or competition concerns when the CMA delivers its findings at the end of July.

Mr Hauser, who is known as the “godfather” of chip technology in the UK, said he was concerned over Nvidia's move to launch a new Arm-based server chip, which was announced last month.

He said what Nvidia was proposing was a “proprietary interface between its Arm server chip, Grace, and their graphics processing unit” – something that risked “locking customers into their products”.

He added the move “clearly shows that they will compete unfairly with other Arm-based server companies such as Amazon and Fujitsu”.

Mr Hauser's comments come amid growing concerns among Nvidia rivals over the deal, which would see Arm, the designer of processors used in billions of smartphones, swallowed by the US chipmaker.

Companies including Qualcomm and Graphcore have written to regulators to urge them to block the takeover. Mr Hauser's venture firm Amadeus Capital Partners is a shareholder in Graphcore.

Last year, he wrote in The Sunday Telegraph that the Government should instead engineer a combination with Graphcore, rather than allowing the takeover by Nvidia.

Nvidia hit out at the claims, saying that Mr Hauser “does not understand what Grace will do or its benefits to Arm”.

He said Grace would be focused on high-performance computing and artificial intelligence, and would work with chips from every data centre supplier including Graphcore.

A spokesman said: “We have been working on Grace using off-the-shelf Arm technology, available to all Arm licensees, long before we agreed to acquire Arm.”

A spokesman for Arm added that the Nvidia takeover was “pro-competitive and will expand choices for customers in the PC and data center markets” and that Nvidia “has not been given any preferential access by Arm for their Grace central processing unit, which will be based on Arm intellectual property that has been available to any of our partners to license”.

Arm had once been seen as the crown jewel of the UK tech industry, but in 2016 was snapped up by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.

Some Nvidia rivals who depend on equitable access to Arm designs fear the takeover by the US firm will harm their businesses and stop Arm from being the “Switzerland” of semiconductors.