Four years ago AMD did the unthinkable: it announced the 5.4 billion dollar acquisition of ATI in a combination of cash and stock. What followed was a handful of very difficult years for AMD, an upward swing for ATI and the eventual spinoff of AMD’s manufacturing facilities to GlobalFoundries in order to remain profitable and competitive.

In the years post acquisition, many criticized AMD for blowing a lot of money on ATI and having little to show for it. Even I felt that for $5.4 billion AMD could’ve put together its own competent graphics and chipset teams.

Despite the protest and sideline evaluations, good has come from the acquisition. The most noticeable is the fact that AMD’s chipset business is the strongest it has ever been. AMD branded chipsets and integrated graphics are actually very good. And later this year, AMD will ship its first Fusion APUs (single die CPU/GPU): Ontario using Bobcat cores and an AMD GPU. Ontario will be the first tangible example of direct AMD/ATI collaboration since the acquisition.

Just as we’re about to see results from the acquisition AMD is announcing that it will retire the ATI brand later this year. Save those boxes guys, soon you won’t see an ATI logo on any product sold in the market.

The motivation behind the decision to retire the ATI brand comes from AMD’s own internal research. Unfortunately AMD isn’t sharing the details of this research, just the three major findings from it:

1) AMD brand preference triples when the person surveyed is aware of the ATI-AMD merger.
2) The AMD brand is viewed as stronger than ATI when compared to graphics competitors (presumably NVIDIA).
3) The Radeon and Fire Pro brands themselves (without ATI being attached to them) are very high as is.

The second point is really the justification for all of this. If AMD’s internal research is to be believed, AMD vs. NVIDIA is better from a marketing standpoint than ATI vs. NVIDIA. Honestly, AMD’s research seems believable. AMD has always seemed like a stronger brand to me than ATI. There’s little room for ego in business (despite it being flexed all too often) and I don’t believe AMD would hurt its marketing simply to satisfy any AMD executives - the research makes sense.

Meanwhile the third point is the realization that there are very few product lines with the ATI brand left. ATI's chipset operations were quickly absorbed in to AMD and given appropriate naming, while ATI's consumer electronics products such as their Digital TV division have been sold to other companies. Radeon and FirePro are the only two ATI product lines left, and both are strong brands on their own.

The brand switch also reflects some internal changes at AMD. Many important ATI employees have been relocated to AMD's base of operations in Austin, Texas in order to help with Liano, Ontario, and AMD's future Fusion products. So the line between AMD and ATI has been further blurring for some time.

The brand switch will start late this year, I’d guess in Q4 with Ontario and a new GPU release. AMD (and NVIDIA) originally had GPU designs for the 32nm process node however extensive teething problems with 40nm and 32nm forced TSMC to cancel the node and move directly to 28nm. This cancellation required both companies to redesign their parts to work within existing 40nm processes and move their original plans out to coincide with 28nm in 2011. As a result we will see an incremental update to the Radeon HD 5000 series at the end of this year, but don’t expect the sort of performance boost we got with the 5800 vs. 4800. This upcoming hardware will probably carry the AMD Radeon HD 6000 series brand. All existing hardware will continue to carry the ATI brand.

To go along with the new brand we get new logos. If OEMs want to display a badge without the AMD brand, there’s an alternative for that as well:

AMD states the AMD-less logos are purely at the request of OEMs who sell systems with Intel CPUs and AMD GPUs. I suspect Intel’s logo program may have some stipulations on being used adjacent to a sticker with an AMD logo on it, although AMD told me it was purely at the request of the OEMs trying to avoid confusion.

The other major change is AMD’s brand simplification at the retail level. Last year AMD introduced a new platform brand called Vision. If you buy a PC with all AMD components (CPU, chipset and GPU) it can carry a Vision logo (similar to Intel’s Centrino brand). There are four categories of Vision support all with increasing hardware requirements: Vision, Vision Premium, Vision Ultimate and Vision Black. The idea is that if you buy a standard Vision PC you’ll have a good entry level machine, but buying up the stack grants you additional capabilities and performance (e.g. Blu-ray playback, web cam support, discrete GPUs, multicore CPUs etc...). We’ve explained it all in greater detail here.

Starting next year, AMD’s Vision badge will be the only CPU brand you see on retail desktops/notebooks. You’ll still get Radeon/Fire Pro badges on systems that use those parts, but you’ll no longer see a Phenom II, Athlon II, Turion or Sempron logo on Vision systems. Instead you’ll see what CPU is inside on the little card that sits next to the system at your local retailer.

I suspect this will last until AMD introduces Bulldozer, at which point it’ll probably be very eager to build up its brand - assuming performance its is competitive.

Final Words

Retiring the ATI brand comes at an interesting time in the microprocessor market. Graphics is becoming much more important, but to date we have very few examples outside of 3D games as good consumer applications for powerful GPUs. AMD views this as the perfect time to consolidate its brands before the CPU/GPU line gets more blurry.

AMD also pointed out that its market share has been on a steady climb over the past few years. According to Mercury Research, AMD’s discrete GPUs climbed from ~33% marketshare at the end of 2007 to 51% last quarter. AMD has executed unusually well on the GPU side and NVIDIA has had some very difficult years in the process, both of which are responsible for AMD’s climb. The ATI name will go out on a high note.

AMD Discrete GPU Marketshare, Source: Mercury Research

If all goes well with AMD’s two exciting new CPU architectures next year, the brand will only get stronger going forward. Bobcat could do very well in today’s netbook/thin and light notebook form factors and Bulldozer may mark a return to competition in the server and high end desktop markets.

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  • chizow - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    The day AMD kills off the ATI brand is going to be a date that lives in infamy for those conflicted fanboys that prefer Intel CPUs but would kill for ATI GPUs. Oh the confusion....and raaage that will ensue!

    But in all seriousness, I'm not sure if this is a good move on AMD's part, as I would generally think of ATI as the more competitive part in their respective market (GPUs) than AMD, which is typically thought of more as a less competitive, value solution in their respective market (CPUs).

    Then again, AMD probably figures they already paid enough with that $6B acquisition of ATI, adopting the ATI name on the letterhead would just add insult to injury even if its probably the more successful/competitive arm of the company.
  • Googer - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    Based on my recent experience and past experience with an ATi 9700 pro which had drivers that were on par with nVIDIA. The drivers being released by AMD are not as good as they were prior to the merger. I am rather disappointed in my 5670's in ability to do 1920*1200 over RGBHV to my GDM-FW900. Instead I get a 640*480 signal sent down the wire that shows a small segment of my 1920*1200 desktop. It can be likened to a 9mp jpg on a 640*480 display where you must scroll from side to side to see specific parts of the image.

    Even when I tell CCC to force a certain resolution, it still sends a crummy 640*480 signal down the wire.

    See my forum post for details.
  • B3an - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    Yeah AMD/ATI drivers aint been as good for a longgg time now. It probably started when they decided to release them each month. It's good marketing to the many thick people that think more = better. But in a month they clearly dont have the time to make them good enough and fix many things. Sometimes they will even release a BETA driver that fixes something, but it does not get included in the final driver for up to 3 months.

    Support for certain things with my 5870's drivers is only just coming together lately (especially with some Vvdeo software, options, and Flash video), but Nivida often have had this stuff working for months, sometimes half a year in advance.
  • BanditWorks - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    But it was about time if you ask me.
  • GoodRevrnd - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    time to ebay my 9700 pro as a collector's item.
  • Overmind - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    They should not drop the ATi logo and naming. It's been a symbol of quality for years.
    At least they keep the red, which is a lot better then that old default AMD greenish.
  • Camikazi - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    They won't let go of the red, Nvidia is already green, making AMD graphics logo green too would be bad. AMD graphics logo will stay red.
  • wyvernknight - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    I used to wonder why they didn't do this. I've always thought that AMD's brand recognition is fairly low (apparently not according to this survey) , whereas ATi's is stronger. I've always thought it would be smarter to tie the AMD brand to the ATi brand to create higher awareness and finally just use the AMD brand. I suppose they jumped straight to step 3.
  • Sschevylt1 - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    I teared up when I heard this... Rip ATi :'(
  • prime2515103 - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    "1) AMD brand preference triples when the person surveyed is aware of the ATI-AMD merger."

    I find that surprising actually... Personally, I go out of my way NOT to call an ATi card AMD.

    This is actually kind of sad... I feel threatened somehow lol Stupid marketing...

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