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I don’t usually pay much attention to corporate executives and the hirings, firings and resignations thereof. It’s not that executives are unimportant, it’s that they’re not exactly what I’m passionate about. While I never pass up an opportunity to meet with an exec, I generally walk away more impressed after a conversation with a Fellow.

 

Today’s resignation of AMD’s former CEO Dirk Meyer seemed like reason to pay attention. It wasn’t a scandal or anything vile that led up to the resignation, just a good old fashioned differing of opinion. To quote AMD’s press release:

”However, the Board believes we have the opportunity to create increased shareholder value over time. This will require the company to have significant growth, establish market leadership and generate superior financial returns. We believe a change in leadership at this time will accelerate the company’s ability to accomplish these objectives.”

The implication being that Dirk’s plan for AMD wouldn’t result in significant growth, establish market leadership and generate superior financial returns. The question is what was Dirk’s plan and what direction does AMD’s Board of Directors believe it should be headed in instead?

Dirk Meyer has been nothing but good for AMD since he took control in 2008. As AMD points out Dirk successfully spun off Global Foundries (the industry as a whole may owe him thanks for that as it seems to be gearing up to be a major player in the future of chip manufacturing). In doing so Dirk also floated a sinking ship—AMD managed a return to profitability under his watch. We’re also on the cusp of AMD’s most active year ever. Brazos just launched and we’ll get both Llano and Bulldozer before the year is out. When was the last time AMD launched three different architectures in a 12 month period? Never, that’s when.

So what wasn’t Dirk prepared to do? AMD still doesn’t have a public ultra mobile (read: smartphone) strategy, but would that be enough to resign over? I don’t have any reason to believe that Bobcat wouldn’t eventually be folded into a smartphone SoC. AMD typically lets Intel open up a new market and then follows it in as an alternative. I suspect it’s a safer bet to let Intel duke it out with ARM for control of the smartphone market before deciding to enter. Based on the outcome there, AMD could choose to enter under either the x86 or ARM banners.

I was talking to Ryan Smith earlier tonight when the news broke and he mentioned something that caught my interest:

“Mark my words, at some point they're going to try to sell the company to ATIC. Let ATIC deal with fighting Intel, and the board/investors can pocket a nice profit. Certainly if you were trying to sell, you'd sack Dirk. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy that would let them do it.”

This is just one of the many reasons I love working with Ryan—he always looks at things at an angle I hadn’t previously considered. ATIC, the company funding Global Foundries, would be a good suitor for AMD. It has the resources to fund a fight with Intel as we’ve already seen from Global Foundries...oh, and it also happens to own a number of microprocessor fabs that conveniently are very well suited to manufacturing AMD microprocessors.

Obviously everything here is pure speculation. While Dirk saved AMD from extinction, the press release seems to indicate he wouldn’t be the right guy to take AMD to the point of making tons of money. With Intel executing as well as it has been, I’m not sure if a change in CEO will be enough to fix that. AMD needs an influx of revenue to fund the sort of projects it needs in order to gain significant market share. 

To be honest, I don’t know Dirk personally and I don’t know why he’d choose to part ways with AMD. Changes like this are usually the result of something significant however. We’ll probably find out the answer in the next 24 months.

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  • Sahrin - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    Last I read, x86 represents 80% of all logic dollars. ARM shares the 20% with everyone else - including Power, nVidia, etc. Saying the "writing is on the wall" for x86 is like saying the "writing is on the wall" for PC's. Assuming that the writing is "we're making billions in profits every year selling more computers than our competition has - in their entire history, combined." Reply
  • sprockkets - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    That's today. Seriously, do you need the next version of Intel's CPU? With mobile devices becoming powerful enough to do what you want, and the ipad selling like crazy, do you really think that desktop pcs are going to be relevant anymore?

    Everyone says that x86 will still be made, but seriously, the consumer market is changing rapidly. At least GF has their future set if they start fabbing ARM CPUs for people.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    When heat and power are a concern, yes. Gaming and high-performing workstations will still be desktop driven for atleast a decade Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    Which accounts for what % of the market? Reply
  • erple2 - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    If you believe Sahrin's numbers, is about 80% of the logic dollars of the market. Which sounds to me like where you want to throw some SERIOUS resources.

    Apple (and by extension its shareholders) would LOVE to be at that point.

    Imagine, if your one little gizmo that's a tiny percentage of the overall market raked in 80% of the total profits of the whole market?
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    i agree with you on that, but what percentage of PCs are "gaming and high performance?"

    once the big companies see that the big volume profits are being made in the smartphone/ultramobile market, the monetary incentive for building on x86 erodes.

    a big obsticle to replacing x86 has always been the absence of alternative productivity software, or its proliferation, but now there are plenty of strong options, and between ARM and the Google ecosytem, they have become more realistic,
    We even have Microsoft talking about writing for ARM, and if that isn't enough, there is cloud computing and virtual machines to run old x86 programs on different architechtures,

    i understand that it still seems like a long, long road to replacing x86, but it's totally possible. if things continue the way they are going, with people turning more and more to ultraportable solutions, there is no reason to doubt that ARM can be the defacto achitecture.
    of course, that's all only if things continue the way they are going, for all i know, people could all just say "to hell with smartphones" and that would be the end of it, but i'm pretty hooked on the convenience myself.
    Reply
  • mgambrell - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    no matter how super convenient your mobile devices are, youll always need to turn to a pc to get real work done. Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    Even the current arch of ARM is very powerful. With Win8 supporting ARM it's only a matter of time.

    If stuff like the Atrix catch on, expect form factor issues to be out of the way as well.
    Reply
  • mutarasector - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    Smartphones & ultra low power portable mobile computing will never rival the heavy lifting capacity of desktops, period. Its simple physics: one will always being able to cram more raw computing power in a desktop form factor (by an order of magnitude no less) that simply cannot be replaced/superceded by mobile devices.

    If anything, mobile and stationary computing will result in more of a symbiotic relationship, and 'vs' comparisons are a false dichotomy..

    Both are here to stay.
    Reply
  • GotThumbs - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    Every try encoding a video using ARM or an IPAD? I see a move to central servers for each household...and interfacing with them using tablets, smart phones, or networked devices like your TV. Eventually your appliences will network with your server which will be the brains of your home. You will always need at least one powerful system in each house, but most users tend to need very little in daily life. Reply

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