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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  • 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.
  • pklop - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    "and another company that recognizes that will grab the top talent first"
    That language... So aggressive and so utilitarian.

    " we had the pick of the absolute best female engineers in the country."
    How do you know that? Hyperbole and overselfconfidence is not a good indicator of someone who knows what he or she does. It reflects however your role and how you repeat the same phrases over and over again and surround yourself with people of the same mindset. Try to be a little more varied, it opens the mind and avoids getting into missionary one-sided frenzy.

    " Many of our absolute best engineers and software architects are now women as a result."
    That says a lot about the company/companies you work for, but otherwise it doesn't say much. Obviously women can be good engineers, why not? The positive discrimination you do however is ugly and is not helping them. If you talk to them like you do now, you'll ruin them by overinflating their ego, and praising them for being women. It's not different than praising girls to look so pretty since they are little. Wrong incentives!

    Praise is good, but not praising for qualities they don't control (such as being female in this example). Also you should treat people good no matter what they are like physically or personally and not just for their economic worth or "talent".
  • Reflex - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    pklop -

    What the heck is wrong with you???

    I say that some of our top engineers are now women because it is objectively true. Because women are in lower demand, the ones we hire are often at the top of their class or highly accomplished. The average female hire we get is generally speaking at a higher level of accomplishment, whether academic or professional, than the average male hire. That is a pretty good indicator that the industry as a whole is overlooking women. Your weird statement that by me pointing out that they have performed on average so well is defied by the fact that our rating and promotion system, which is gender and ethnicity blind, has consistently rated them near the top or at the top of the teams they tend to be on. Our promotion system is based on those ratings. Nobody is patting the women on the head and saying "Nice job, here's a lollipop!" I am not praising them for being women, the fact that you read that into what I typed says a LOT about you however.

    Your statement about men in tech is very out of date, also. This is not the 80's or 90's where it was the class nerd. Nowadays we get top graduates from around the world, and the vast majority of them were not the kind who could fix the projector in class. Most are people who would have chosen medicine in the 90's or finance in the 80's, it is just another career choice. Quite frankly in the past fifteen years my colleagues have gone from a lot of poorly dressed, poorly self-maintained nerds to socially adept, well dressed career driven individuals. The old stereotypes simply don't fit anymore, at least not in Seattle or San Francisco which are the main tech hubs. And here in Seattle saying you are in software is an excellent way to get a date (complaining about how easy women and minorities have it, however, is not).

    Furthermore, when someone points out that black males receive more and longer sentences than whites, the proper response is to address that assertion directly, either by agreement or disagreement. The racist response is to immediately deflect it into something else, such as "all males get longer sentences." That may or may not be true, but it is not a response to the comment made, and it is a potential second issue. The first was about the impact of race, the second was a comment on gender. Trying to deflect the conversation away from the first point strongly implies that you have no interest in addressing the challenges racial minorities face, and that instead you can simply shift the topic to one where you feel some measure of victimhood.

    Finally, I have yet to meet the mythical entitled minority who has an inflated ego and is destructive towards teams. I've heard about him a lot, mostly from older white guys, but I have in 20 years not met them. I'm going to go out on a limb here and state that if in 20 years and having worked for four of the largest companies in technology I have not met such a creature, that I'm willing to 'risk' encountering them at some point in exchange for a more diverse workforce. Because quite frankly when I entered the industry in 1995 it was nothing but a lot of geeky white guys, and now I work with men and women from around the world in a far more professional environment and not only are the products I build better than they ever were, but my work environment is a lot more fun.
  • Gigaplex - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    And what happens when the majority of your customers are either uneducated or unemployed? By definition your employees can't simultaneously be unemployed, so those needs are obviously missed. And you don't really want a lot of uneducated employees dragging the company down. That's why companies use focus groups to determine what potential customers need.
  • Reflex - Monday, September 21, 2015 - link

    Ask Wal*Mart. They seem to do a fantastic job with that, both with marketing towards the under employed, and making certain their own workforce is on the government dole.
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - link

    Nice to see some sense in here amongst the reactionary nonsense. Cheers, Reflex.
  • Reflex - Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - link

    Its a little weird when the guy speaking up for the corporate point of view is the one who apparently is the 'progressive'...

    Its amazing how the right wing has run so far right that conservative principles are now supposedly bigoted.
  • FunBunny2 - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    Yeah, and only when the white suburban soccer moms start shooting heroin does it become a sickness to be treated, rather than criminal and off to the prison??? Shoe's on the other foot?? How's it fit??
  • woggs - Saturday, September 19, 2015 - link

    You are a gigantic idiot.
  • jospoortvliet - Saturday, September 19, 2015 - link

    So they want a more diverse workforce and are aware of the advantages white and Asian males have in the tech industry. Trying to compensate for those advantages with such a bonus might not be the nicest thing to do, but it does make sense and if it works, I would do it.

    Note that this is as much discriminating for white or Asian males as it is discriminating for non-handicapped people to have a special toilet for the disabled. You could argue that it is discriminating but it is rather disingenuous.

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