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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  • Mathos - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    *looks at the mans history of finishing the design of a processor Core, then leaving to do the same somewhere else*.

    Ok, not the first time he's done so. And not the only company he's done so with. Anyone who knows anything knows that the early Athlons in the 2000s were based highly on what? You guessed it, the alpha design he had worked on previously, which is why they used the same DDR 200-233mhz fsb at the time.

    *looks at the other idiots crying doom and gloom and Zen failure confirmed*
    Get your heads out of your butts. This is what the guy does. Don't be surprised if AMD continues to exist, if we see him working there again the next time they need a boost.
  • webdoctors - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    You're absolutely right! I'm gonna go double my AMD stock holdings! Monday ASAP~!
  • nofumble62 - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    Exactly 3 years to develop a new architect to turn around a sinking ship .. yes he must be Einstein.
  • Azix - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    AMDs problem was never design. After they lost so much to intels cheating and sold Global Foundries their problem became manufacturing nodes. If they had access to something below 28nm they would have released faster fx processors already. They pretty much hit a wall there long ago while Intel went on to smaller nodes.
  • nofumble62 - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    So Jim Keller has figured that out and loaded his truck once again, lol.
  • iwod - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    Given How AMD has listed Zen and Zen+ on the Roadmap. I guess everything is pretty much done.
    The rest, is about figuring out the best yielding from GF.

    Again, AMD is handicapped by GF, which has seen delay after delay. And that is something Jim Keller could not help.

    I hope Jim Returns to Apple though, and hopefully not Samsung.
  • cotak - Saturday, September 19, 2015 - link

    You guys read too much into this and his history. The only people who really knows what's going on aren't on here talking.

    His history isn't 100% all wham bam thank you ma'am each and everytime he takes and leave a job. At various times he has stayed considerable tenures. He stayed 8 years at PA Semi/Apple for example. And seemingly almost 20 at DEC.

    It fact it seems his times at AMD is the shortest of all his jobs. First time just 1 year and this time 3. I begs many questions. Forgetting Zen for a moment, if AMD is a great place to work why did he leave after a year first time and after 3 this time? This is troubling because the contest between AMD and intel isn't a one generation cycle thing. And if Keller really has the magic to make great things happen, losing him now isn't exactly great for the AMD long term game plan.
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - link

    Nobody's contesting that it's a great place to work - just that historically he has done good things there before moving along.
  • toyotabedzrock - Saturday, September 19, 2015 - link

  • daftshadow - Monday, September 21, 2015 - link

    Keller knows that his talent, skills, and experience makes him invaluable. Making it easy for him to jump to different companies knowing that he is always in demand, indispensable to a company that requires his resume.

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