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AMD Hires New Chief CPU Architect, Brings Old Salt Back On Board

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News Posted: Tue, Jul 31 2012 10:01 PM
After more than six months of high-to-mid profile executive departures, AMD has major news to announce on its new executive hire -- and he's a welcome addition. Starting today, Jim Keller will serve as a vice president and the company's Chief Architect for CPU Cores. Keller has spent more than thirty years in the semiconductor business, including a few at AMD.

When AMD brought members of DEC's Alpha team aboard in the late 1990s, Keller was one of the CPU architects that came along. Having worked on Alpha's EV5, Jim was lead architect on the first K8 project (the first iteration of K8 was eventually canceled and Fred Weber became lead architect on the design that came to market). Keller moved on and eventually became one of the core members of PA Semi which, as you may recall, was bought by Apple in 2007.


The DEC Alpha 21164 -- Keller was one of the lead designers

Now he's back onboard with AMD and will report directly to Mark Papermaster. Papermaster is himself a thirty-year veteran of the semiconductor industry and, like Keller, spent several years with Apple. AMD, having been through the ringer with multiple departures of late, was eager to talk up the hire. Unfortunately the company didn't actually say much more than note he was coming on board.

"Improving execution consistency and creating leading-edge CPU IP are cornerstones of AMD’s future. Technology leadership means market leadership, and we have an incredible roster of engineering talent to maximize the opportunity in front of us."

When we pressed for more detail, AMD PR gave us this: "the prime reason [for hiring Jim Keller] was improving execution consistency and creating leading-edge CPU IP. But his SOC and low power credentials will be highly valued at AMD."

The first half of the sentence is meaningless execu-babble, the second half points to Keller being a smart guy with skills in areas where AMD wants to compete. What we're hoping is that AMD has finally woken up to the fact that some of its best engineering talent is gone, mostly for reasons we aren't aware of. Papermaster is well-regarded within the semiconductor industry, but he's an executive, not an architect.

The good thing here is that if AMD needed a new chip designer, it got a good one, with a record that goes straight back to the company's Alpha heritage. AMD's last quarterly conference call did little to reassure investors, and the stock has slid further since that date. Hopefully bringing Keller aboard will soothe some jangled nerves and let Sunnyvale focus on its processors.
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That last round of layoffs looked really indiscriminate, there were some names that should NOT have been let go. Now they're going to have to spend a ton of money just to get back good talent. I think there are still good engineers at AMD, but who's managing these guys to bringing out good products? That's why I think this is a good move, bringing in some one who understands the process and can lead people.

AMD still have a heck of a way to go though.

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rapid1 replied on Wed, Aug 1 2012 11:41 PM

Thing is AMD has had a ways to go for many years really. I am not saying they have not had positives as well but I will say that if they would have had and kept a long term team working on it they would be much, much further along than they are.

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KBennett replied on Tue, Aug 28 2012 6:11 AM

If the rumor mills are true the reason AMD has been hurting is they fired all the guys that made the great chips like Athlon64, only to replace them with computer generated chip layouts. From what I've been told there is no computer that can lay out the chips like a human, you end up with 20%+ larger dies and 20%+ more wasted power because the computer doesn't understand the intricate ways the chip components interact.

Hopefully by bringing in some old school chip guys that can get rid of the bad designs like BD they've been trying to sell and bring us another winner.

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JOMA replied on Tue, Aug 28 2012 7:30 AM

Let's hope this is the beginning to turning thing around. Stock price is low, if this does work might be a good buying time.

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realneil replied on Tue, Aug 28 2012 1:27 PM

Hopefully this will help them turn out better performance class CPUs.

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lets hope this is a game changer for them, its been a long time since they ruled the enthusiast market. 

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