AMD Executive In Charge of Xbox Durango, Wii U, Next-Generation Consoles Leaves For Nvidia

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News Posted: Mon, Jul 23 2012 9:53 PM
Bob Feldstein, AMD's VP of strategic development and former overseer of the company's console relationships and licensing agreements has left Sunnyvale for greener pastures in more than one sense of the word. Feldstein has taken a position with Nvidia, AMD's archrival in the graphics business.

Every time AMD has announced a major departure since the beginning of the year, we've had a conversation with company representatives to discuss the impact on AMD. Thus far, the company's explanations for these losses have made a reasonable amount of sense, and we've described them in fairly neutral terms. We've given AMD the benefit of the doubt on this uncertainty.

This is different. Feldstein was the executive in charge of ATI's Xenos GPU back when the Xbox 360 was under development and he's worked with Nintendo on the Wii and Wii U as well. If rumors are true, all three next-generation consoles use AMD hardware, which means Feldstein, who headed that segment of the company, was likely instrumental in winning those deals for AMD.

AMD-ATI Xenos Graphics Core Block Diagram for Xbox 360
AMD-ATI Xenos Graphics Core Block Diagram for Xbox 360

Now he's gone to Nvidia, to serve as that company's VP of technology licensing. Not only is his defection something of a kick in the gut for AMD, he's the latest in a long line of talented engineers and executives on the graphics side that have left AMD (or been fired) for other companies. Rick Bergman, Carrell Killebrew, Eric Demers, Godfrey Cheng, and now Feldstein -- and those are just the names big enough to fly across the media's radar.

God knows consoles have never been AMD's ticket to profitability; the company has struggled to turn a GPU profit for the past four years despite the Wii's meteoric popularity and the Xbox 360's strong sales. Nevertheless, Feldstein's departure says a great deal about the company's shifting strategic priorities. As we've stated in the past, AMD needs a graphics business to compete effectively with Intel and to build its own power-efficient mobile devices, but the company's long-term commitment to enthusiast level graphics and the gaming segment is no sure thing. It's barely been a month since the company announced it would no longer issue monthly driver updates as well.

Having written that, I'll almost certainly get a phone call from AMD PR re-emphasizing that the company is committed to graphics, the professional and gaming markets, and the core customers that have sustained it these past decades. It may even be true, on some level, but you don't hemorrhage executives and engineers, then replace those personnel with equally talented individuals over night. Even in situations where you have excellent replacements, it takes time for teams to readjust to a new boss or new priorities.

How bad a sign is it that another important member of AMD's graphics division has left for the company's competition? I don't know. But it's not good -- and in the wake of so many other departures, it's impossible to treat this as just another radar blip.
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