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AMD lead architect quits, Zen still on sched

Posted: 21 Sep 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:AMD? x86 core? Jim Keller? processor?

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has announced that its product and technology roadmaps won't be affected by the departure of Jim Keller. The veteran microprocessor designer led the effort to design AMD's next-generation x86 core called Zen, a 64bit custom ARM core and SoCs based on them.

Mark Papermaster, the company's CTO and another veteran processor designer, has become the acting leader of Keller's team. "We remain on track for Zen availability in 2016 with first full year of revenue in 2017," said an AMD spokesman.

The news comes at challenging time when the PC market is on the decline. AMD and others hope the combination of their latest products and Windows 10 breathe new life into it. Just last week AMD created a graphics processor group under Raja Koduri.

"There are a lot of moving parts right now at AMD, creating a separate graphics separate entity could help Wall Street see favourable comparisons between AMD and its graphics rival Nvidia, but big organisation changes can also have ripple effects," said Patrick Moorhead, principal or Moor Insights & Strategy (Austin).

Jim Keller

"One person never makes or breaks a company or a team; Keller was good for AMD and will be missed I'm sure, but as AMD has done so many times before, they will replace the position with high-calibre talent," Moorhead added.

Keller is "a brilliant lead architect, but I think he accomplished what he set out to do at AMD, the Zen architecture is complete and nearing tape out," said Kevin Krewell, a principal analyst at Tirias Research. "For the next year AMD needs to focus on execution of the product, and there are plenty of engineers at the company that can handle that task," Krewell said.

Keller "has a pattern of coming in to a company, setting a processor direction, and then moving on to a new company/project," he added. "I wished he stayed until the chip shipped, but I see no evidence that Zen is in any trouble, still it's not ideal for AMD to lose Jim at this time," Krewell said.

It was Keller's second time at AMD where years ago he led the design of the K8 aka Athlon processor. It implemented the first 64bit x86 architecture that Keller helped define. Later he worked under Dan Dobberpuhl, developing MIPS processors at startup SiByte (acquired by Broadcom) and PowerPC chips at P.A. Semi, acquired by Apple in 2008. Keller helped develop SoCs used in the Apple iPhone and iPad until returning to AMD in 2012.

"My initial reaction was, 'This can't be good,'" said analyst Nathan Brookwood of Insight65 (Saratoga, Calif.) on first hearing of Keller's departure.

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