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

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.