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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  • Murloc - Saturday, September 19, 2015 - link

    yeah it's not really discriminating as long as the subsequent hiring process is race-blind, but let's face it: almost no customers go beyond understanding that the hard disk is their space and the computer is the rest, so the CPU companies reflecting the real world is completely useless.

    Software companies are another thing.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Saturday, September 19, 2015 - link

    I don't actually agree with this assertion for a couple reasons. First, Intel does not just design integrated circuits, they design platforms, and those platforms are often 50% or more of what goes into the final product. Intel does not just hand Dell a CPU, they hand them a prototype tablet, ultrabook, or other design and Dell takes that and brings it to market, with their own engineering efforts added to it. If you go to IDF or other Dell events you will find a wide range of tablets, ultrabooks, desktops, phones and other designs, all based on their own market research and engineering ideas. It is very important for Intel to understand the market, they have to deliver silicon that matches the products that people will want to buy.

    The second reason is competitiveness. Unless one accepts the incorrect notion that white and asian males are inherently superior engineers to all others, then if your workforce is overwhelmingly white and asian males you are likely leaving a lot of the best available talent unconsidered, and another company that recognizes that will grab the top talent first. I see this a lot with female engineers, we do not have enough of them so we started sending recruiters to Grace Hopper events before many other tech companies and we had the pick of the absolute best female engineers in the country. Many of our absolute best engineers and software architects are now women as a result. By not explicitly targeting underrepresented groups, you are leaving that top talent to your competition, and they will use that talent to beat you in the market.

    The major area I'd like to still see improvement is in the US education system, where women are still aggressively pushed towards communications, marketing and other non-technical careers. In China, India and the middle east you do not see this kind of bias, and a large percentage of our female hires are foreign as a result. This is nationally a missed opportunity in my opinion since I have no reason to believe that American women are less capable than foreign women.
    Reply
  • Alexvrb - Saturday, September 19, 2015 - link

    Here's an idea: Hire whoever is best for the job and go truly race blind. We should make it illegal to offer different treatment to anyone based on race or gender. Taken mention of race and gender out of everything. Across the board, nationwide. True equality, under the law, no special treatment. Ah, but that doesn't promote the agenda.

    Oh and FYI most females tend to avoid technical classes like the plague. They're not being "aggresively pushed towards non-technical careers" when they (of their own volition) avoid technical education. If you want more women in those fields you'd have to push them towards it. Good luck.
    Reply
  • MisterAnon - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    @Alexvrb

    Truly race blind is a great goal, but we have to get there first. Institutional racism and sexism are things that still exist in our society, and these problems must be addressed. Calling for "colorblindness" while courts disproportionately give longer sentences to black men for the same crimes as others isn't colorblindness. It's ignorance and denial.

    >Oh and FYI most females tend to avoid technical classes like the plague.

    [citation needed]

    >They're not being "aggresively pushed towards non-technical careers"

    They definitely are. It's said that adults tend to live up to their role, and not their potential. In our society girls are often shamed away from things like math because it's not "womanly".
    Reply
  • pklop - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    "Calling for "colorblindness" while courts disproportionately give longer sentences to black men for the same crimes as others isn't colorblindness."
    That's certainly a problem that needs to get fixed. Men in general btw, get a lot more and longer sentences than women. I hope you don't agree that's because men are more aggressive or bad in general....

    Besides that, compensating a wrong by discriminating another group in another domain is not what an evolved country should do.

    I have no problem with people who love their work, no matter their looks. What does matter is personality, though. And this kind of targeted minority hiring gets a lot of self-entitled personalities come to companies, with overinflated egos, because they are made to believe they are special and deserve it so much.

    That indeed is hurting the whole atmosphere and devaluing other groups or people that are more sensible.

    Also in general, more and more fluff kind of people come to IT, because it's the big business right now. That's also where all those "equality" propaganda comes from. They don't care about equality, they want to see more of their own type amongst their co-workers.

    If this was about equality the ads would truly be varied, and not have those licked and slick and always fake-happy people. Because the company would care about a real representation of all kinds and personality of people.

    This is just marketing. This isn't about the minorities. Actually they are just a tool and it's a good way to distract from the real change that needs to happen. It's clever because if they don't get hired they hate white males as a group, instead of those people who really make the decisions, which are not the "white males" group.

    White males are individuals, and it's actually insulting to lump them together and fovor or disfavor them based on skin color, or assign them properties.

    This is harmful.
    Reply
  • pklop - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    "They definitely are. It's said that adults tend to live up to their role, and not their potential. In our society girls are often shamed away from things like math because it's not "womanly"."

    Yeah, since it's so cool to be a guy that is into technology. The normal population certainly has limited interest for those topic, as is obvious again and again.

    It's not like you are a hero because you are a man and into tech. It's more like a looser.

    If you have a successful internet startup it may be different. But it's about the business you created, not because of the subject or technology itself.

    Let's not fool ourselves. Boys and men in tech are seen as looser nerds who can be lucky if they get a girl.

    The wrong ideals are certainly not made by male nerds, most would love to share their interests if people would listen (who are not already into it by their own interest).
    Reply
  • HollyDOL - Monday, September 21, 2015 - link

    I cannot speak in general, but in my uni (and class), first year there were only about 6 or 7 women(out of ~100ish pple). Out of those, only one finished the degree (but most gave up during first few months). Don't ask me why, they definitely were not bullied by anyone or anything like that, university itself was even actively trying to promote IT among potential women students, but at least on my university they were extremely rare back when I was there. From what I have heard the situation hasn't changed so far. So I guess majority of women are simply not interested in 1s and 0s and honestly you can't force them to like computer sciences if it is not interesting for them.

    It's imho better if they focus on something they like. Same like you won't see 50% of miners being women or 50% of kindergarten teachers being men (I for one am sure I would epically fail being one). I am by no means a specialist to tell, but I guess certain roles prefer some dispositions (like physical body build for miners) that's more suitable for one gender. Maybe IT has something like that too, dunno.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    Alexvrb -

    I often see this claim that women aren't pushed out of technical careers, but I witnessed the exact opposite myself. My ex partner was herself a scientist, at the top of her class in an elite program. At every level from high school through her PhD the pressure was on her, and her female friends to drop out of her major and move into something 'easier'. She was asked repeatedly why she wanted to pursue a major with so much advanced math and chemistry, and didn't she know she could move towards an easier major? Her friends faced similar challenges.

    Working in a top 5 tech company, I often mentor our interns. The female interns we get almost always talk about the pressure they face, how often they are pushed towards project management, marketing, design and other 'light' majors and away from computer science. I have been told over and over about how difficult it is to know that in order to succeed in tech as a female they have to be the best of the best, while a guy just has to be 'good enough'.

    The more astounding part to me is how that situation does NOT exist among foreign hires. I have never met a woman from India or China who was pressured to change her major away from engineering. Their culture does not treat women from a young age as though they are less than feminine or strange if they are interested in science or technology. Our international hires are far more gender balanced than our domestic hires.

    Given that, there are only two conclusions that I can come up with. Either US born women are mentally and intellectually inferior to foreign born women, or the experience I witnessed with my ex is indicative of our culture in general pushing women away from technical roles.

    I'll go with the latter since I'm not a believer in american inferiority.
    Reply
  • Alexvrb - Thursday, September 24, 2015 - link

    They push THEMSELVES away from technical educations before they even consider higher education at all. In droves. I've seen it all my life. They want nothing to do with highly technical classes. I know you believe you can't be wrong, but look at it this way: If 90% of students attending programming courses (starting in high school, for argument's sake) are male, why in hell would you be shocked to hear that 90% of programmers are male? I've discussed it with a lot of people who have also taken male-dominated technical classes and the typical consensus is DUH they don't want to be involved in that world. Less taking those classes = less in those careers.

    That doesn't make the ones who decide to take an interest to be any worse than men, in the slightest. They're absolutely our equals, when they choose to take on the same role. The key is "when". There's a societal problem alright... and it's mostly an image problem. If you can get more girls to feel it is socially acceptable and indeed desirable to take these classes, the problem will fix itself.

    If you are using so-called "positive" discrimination whether racially or gender based, you're still a biggot and you're discriminating both for and against humans based on a genetic characteristic rather than their merit as an individual. But naturally you'll reject this notion, being a faultless, selfless champion of the people.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Saturday, October 3, 2015 - link

    You are making an argument against a case I wasn't making. I never claimed women were not themselves running away from the field. Many in fact are. However those who do choose to continue also find hurdles, both in terms of education where many are pressured to consider design or program management, or in corporations where getting hired as a female, promoted as a female and regarded as a peer is a steep task in much if not most of the industry. This creates a feedback loop where women who have not decided on a career learn how they will be treated should they manage to get in, thus reducing their desire to enter the field in the first place.

    Again, the question is this: Why is the ratio of male:female so much more equal in candidates I interview from India and China than it is from the United States? What are we doing that is discouraging so much of our own potential talent, and how can we rectify that situation?

    As to your second point, again, its not discrimination if they are not declining to hire males or asians. You can try to imply it is until you are blue in the face, but it has never, ever worked that way. They hire just as many as ever, they are simply trying to reach out to underrepresented groups because the logical assumption is that its a largely untapped source of talent, and from a business perspective it is wise to have some level of workforce parity that reflects their customers.

    In other words it is a smart business decision.
    Reply

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