Another Two AMD Executives Head Off To Greener Pastures

It's been six weeks since Eric Demers, AMD's CTO of graphics, left the company to pursue other opportunities, and another former ATI employee has followed his example. Godfrey Cheng, who recently served as one of AMD's Director of Client Technologies, has left the company. Cheng was part of AMD's high-profile Llano launch and reportedly chose to leave after it became clear that AMD wasn't going to follow Rick Bergman's ideas for how to best leverage AMD's graphics and APU assets.

How much truth there is to that assertion is unclear. Bergman's departure was certainly surprising, but the slides AMD showed at Financial Analyst Day in February confirmed the shape of the slides Bergman showed in June at AMD's Fusion Summit and gave more detail on the company's plans for next-generation architectures. AMD still very much intends to unify CPU and GPU programming by extending the capabilities of the GPU to mesh more smoothly with the CPU, the launch of the company's Radeon 7000 architecture (aka, Graphics Core Next) was the first step along this path.

We spoke with AMD, who acknowledged that Cheng's departure might create concern, coming as it does on the heels of the GTX 680's highly successful launch and Demer's leaving earlier this year. The company affirmed, however, that it remains entirely committed to its GPU technology at all market segments. AMD believes its New Zealand and "Sea Islands" architectures will be a potent challenge for NV's GK104 and noted that the Radeon HD 7000 family competes very well against Kepler's reduced GPGPU performance. While NV might have a few choice comments of its own to make regarding such comparisons, the graphics market has always been highly competitive, with leadership between AMD and Nvidia typically flipping every few generations.

Cheng's departure may well point to a general shift in AMD's corporate focus and goals, but such a shift would be in line with what Rory Read and other executives have said regarding a new focus on SoC parts, re-using IP blocks, and only moving slowly to new process nodes. It's still far too early to see Read's comments on focus playing out in AMD's products but it's something to watch over the next 12-18 months.

Update:  Cheng wasn't the only AMD employee to tender his resignation today. Samsung Electronics has hired Patrick Patla, a former AMD vice-president and general business manager who oversaw the company's Opteron products. The WSJ reports that Samsung has recruited several former AMD employees including Patla, Jim Mergard (a 16-year AMD veteran) and Brag Burgess, who was Bobcat's chief architect.

The problem AMD is increasingly facing is that in and of themselves, these are just one person -- but collectively, it's harder to believe the departures are coincidental. The company has emphasized that there's no crisis in the works, but that's not really the question.

The question is why so many employees who hung on through tumultuous ups and downs with Hector, the ATI acquisition and integration, and the tumult after Dirk Meyer was unexpectedly fired are now leaving. These are individuals who are used to living in the trenches and competing against a massive foe.

According to Read and the rest of the executive team, AMD's shakeups are the beginning of a new, highly-competitive phase of the company's life. The more people leave, the more hollow that explanation sounds.