AMD’s history has been well documented, especially given several reorganizations in the early part of this decade along with changes in senior staff and how both its market share in CPU and GPU markets is progressing. Today we have learned that one of those senior staff, the head of the CPU group Jim Keller, is to leave AMD effective September 18th (today).  Readers may remember that Jim Keller was a recent re-hire in 2012, tasked with leading AMD's CPU group and helping the company develop new core processor architectures in order to bring AMD's architecture in line the competition.

Jim Keller has worked at AMD before, most notably developing the K7 and K8 processors that formed the basis of much of AMD’s success at the turn of the century. This includes assisting in the generation of the x86-64 instruction set that would form the basis of many of the x86 based computers people used today. At other points in time Jim has also spent several years each at Apple helping design their A4 and A5 SoCs as well as at DEC on Alpha processors, giving him a wide degree of experience in CPU development that AMD has been tapping during his latest tenure there.

As a re-hire at the top of the CPU chain, Keller's latest project at AMD was to develop the next generation of high performance processors for AMD and to build a team around the concept of PC performance. This was announced as a rapid departure from the module design of Bulldozer-based cores sharing parts of a processor and towards a new base architecture called Zen. Other projects in the pipeline at AMD CPU group include ARM-based AMD processors (K12), an ARM counterpart of sorts for Zen that is set to launch later on.

As for the big question, the state of Zen, along with confirming that Keller is leaving the company today, AMD is also officially reiterating that their roadmaps are still on course, with Zen set to come to market in the latter half of 2016 and a first full preiod of revenue to be reported in 2017. Given the long (4+ year) design cycles for a modern high-performance CPU, at this point in time all of the "heavy lifting" on Zen development should be done. With only a year or so to go before launch, the rest of Keller's team at AMD will be focusing on fixing bugs and bringing products to manufacturing.

As a result while the loss of Keller is certainly a significant one for AMD, Keller's architecture work on Zen should already be complete, which is likely why we are seeing him leave at this time. And as a quick aside to give you an idea of CPU development timelines, by comparison, Jim's work on K8 was done over 3 years before K8 shipped in 2003. Consequently the biggest loss for AMD here shouldn't be Zen-related, but rather that they won't have Keller's talents to call upon for further refinements of Zen or for a post-Zen architecture.

Meanwhile leadership of the CPU architecture team in Keller's absence will be turned over to CTO Mark Papermaster, who will be leading the group as they wrap up work on Zen. AMD is calling Mark the "acting leader" of the group, so this is likely an interim posting while AMD looks to find or promote someone to lead the CPU architecture group on a permanent basis. Otherwise as we're approaching the end of the fiscal quarter, AMD is in their quiet period, so AMD is limited in what they can say at this time. I suspect we'll hear a bit more on the plan for the final year of Zen development in the company's Q3 earnings release, which will be on October 14th.

Finally, it will be interesting to see if and when Keller will pop up next in the industry. Given his history of switching jobs to work on new CPU projects and his high level of skill which has allowed him to so freely move between companies, we may yet see Keller show up on another CPU project in the future. On the other hand after having worked for AMD twice and Apple, Keller has certainly earned an early retirement. In the meantime with the launch of Zen closing in for AMD, all eyes will be on just what Keller and his team have put together for AMD's next generation CPU.

Source: AMD
Top image (from left): Mark Papermaster (CTO), Dr. Lisa Su (CEO), Simon Segars (CEO of ARM), Jim Keller

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  • jamyryals - Monday, September 21, 2015 - link

    It sounds like this may be good news for Zen, I hope so! Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - link

    Nice article, and I remain optimistic for the future of the microprocessor market. Less so for the future of the comments section given the colossal off-topic diversion! Reply
  • SeanJ76 - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    @AMD. It's been a long struggle for AMD, hopefully they get their sh__ together! Reply
  • marsax73 - Friday, October 02, 2015 - link

    I have completely lost hope with AMD and in the next two months, I will retire the last AMD system I built 5 years ago. I have been a champion of AMD since the 386 days but the Intel i cores are just too good. I think AMD's graphics division is great and I had always preferred them over NVidia but when it comes to the actual processing, Intel makes a better processor. I'm done with the overclocking and buying $100 cooling systems in order for an AMD to keep up with a stock Intel processor. The benchmarks don't lie when it comes to clock for clock performance. When a dual core Intel CPU can keep up with a quad core AMD, then you know it's over. This is no slam against those who wish to continue using AMD processors. I have been there through all the battles with Intel. Being into video/audio production, Intel has had the better processors over the past 4-5 years. I miss the old days of AMD and Intel going head to head. AMD hasn't brought anything of real competition in a few years. Reply
  • 7beauties - Monday, January 04, 2016 - link

    I don't know how AMD stays alive but woe to all of us should they fold because then Intel won't have to innovate nor price their products competitively. Someone said it best years ago: "the best thing that ever happened to Intel was AMD." Reply
  • bhavesh10 - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    I don't want to reply to an old comment section and necro this thing but the time is ripe and AMD has Ryzen from the ashes. There is too much hype in the leaked benchmarks and pricing that even if it is a little bit underperforming people will surely buy one for price to performance ratio. Good managerial decisions after 2015 have led them close from bankruptcy to almost clearing their debt in the next two three years. I sincerely hope that there is real competition now, Kaby lake hasn't provided much incentive to upgrade over Skylake and all it did was to provide a hotter cpu than before. Hope Intel now produces a competitive product but I know it will take atleast a year from now to provide a marginal improvement from now. Anyways Silicon's era is going to end soon, it is reaching the limit at 7nm. We might see graphene as the norm after 5-10 years. Reply

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