AMD : Graphics and x86 CPU Leadership Are Top Priorities

Khalid Moammer
Posted Jan 15, 2015
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John Byrne, the head of AMD’s Computing and Graphics division outlined the company’s top priorities and renewed focus in its latest roadmap.

Featured 3 AMDThis was revealed via an interview with venturebeat.com in which the industry veteran talked about a number of significant changes that he led in the short period of time in his new role. John Byrne joined AMD seven years ago when his company was acquired by AMD. Byrne held many positions inside the company ever since. The most recent and significant of which is the general manager of AMD’s computing and graphics division. A position that he took over only seven months ago,  prior to that he had been the head of sales for the company.

AMD’s Going Through Significant Changes

The company has been going through some significant management changes ever since Dr. Lisa Su took over the role of CEO a few months back. The most dramatic of which occurred only two days ago when three of the company’s top executives left. Including the chief marketing officer Colette LaForce, the chief strategy officer Rajan Naik and finally John Byrne GM of computing and graphics. Lisa Su will temporarily take over John Byrne’s responsibilities leading the computing and graphics business until a replacement is found. According to AMD the new GM will be someone from outside the company.

amd-executive-teamByrne’s departure is the most surprising as he had only been promoted to that role seven months ago as I’d previously mentioned. Unlike his departing colleagues who have only been at AMD since 2012 when Rory Read became the CEO of the company. The Scottish executive who’s famous for his energy, enthusiasm and charisma has been with AMD for far longer, joining the company in 2007. Byrne was also the one to announce Carrizo, AMD’s next generation APU, a couple of months ago. Which only serves to add to the mystery of why exactly he’s leaving. Whatever the underlying reason may be we wish him all the very best.

John Byrne

Fortunately however, before leaving, Byrne presented a comprehensive overview of what AMD’s computing and graphics division has in store for us.

There are three major categories in which AMD is actively working towards according to Byrne. Better x86 performance, maintaining graphics leadership and finally improving power efficiency. The first two are quite obvious long term goals. But are still worthy of note. Especially the x86 comment may prove to be quite a relief to those who had doubts about AMD’s x86 investment once ARM development was brought in. Power efficiency on the other hand is somewhat of a newer goal that AMD shifted significant focus towards about three years ago during the company’s restructuring / transformation phase.

 There are some things we have to do well there. We have to continue to work on our x86 performance, ensuring that each product we bring to market is better x86. We have to maintain our graphics leadership. For notebook, we have to ensure that we’re driving to improve battery life. We’ve done well, but I think if you look at Carrizo, it’s a quantum leap for us in terms of power efficiency.

Byrne also focused on the need to tackle the huge segment largely occupied by Intel’s i3 and i5 processors. Carrizo will take on that role. The company has high hopes for Carrizo as a product that can prove very competitive both in terms of improved x86 performance and the graphics lead over Intel. Byrne also stated that the next item on the agenda will be to compete more aggressively in discrete graphics with upcoming products.

I believe that we have not historically played in commercial. We’ve won the industry’s largest single tender in commercial 18 months ago in India. We won Elitebook … with HP last year. Wait until you see the lineup of commercial platforms I have with Carrizo. It allows us to continue to attack that i3, attack that i5 consumer, and really get to penetrate the commercial market space. We’ll attack graphics. That’s going to be my strategy next

He also emphasized the importance of having good software to pair with great hardware for an overall satisfying experience. This is why the company has increased its software investment focus and will continue to do so in the future. The popular Omega catalyst drivers are a result of this effort to bring better software to the ecosystem. The drivers earned multiple million downloads according to Byrne. Something of a rarity for a driver update.

Another thing you’ll see me spend a lot of time on in our graphics business. We have great graphics hardware. I talked about Hawaii. But one thing we should have improved on is the experience of using an AMD product. Our drivers were good, but they weren’t good enough. I applaud the software team for the recent Catalyst Omega driver, which has earned multiple millions of downloads already because the hardware is just part of the story.
We protected the road map. Nothing came off the road map, which is important. We protected R&D. I wanted us spending more, especially on software. Our hardware has always been good. I want to continue to work on our software optimization. There’s still hiring going on in key technical areas and other parts of the business.

Byrne also touched upon an intriguing and perhaps exciting direction that the company is attempting to take. AMD’s research and development team is working towards enabling discrete GPUs and APUs to communicate in a such a way that would improve overall performance. Think of this as dual graphics but without the limitation of specificity. You won’t need to use a specific graphics card with a specific APU to see a benefit. Engineering effort is underway to enable all processors within the system to communicate without restrictions. We’re very excited to see this take form.

Where I want to then go is … if there’s 300 million processors and 90 million graphics chips sold per year, I want our technologies to be talking to each other. If my APU and discrete GPU can talk to one another, that gives me a true advantage that our competitors can’t do. We call that A plus A. That’s where we’re spending a lot of our resources and talent.

Byrne also discussed his fascination for virtual reality and the interesting applications it enables. He paints a beautiful picture of simply putting the VR headset on to find yourself thousands of miles away sitting with your friends and family. He also points out the traction that VR has gained in the medical and automotive fields. Things like VR facilitated medical and driving simulations can evolve into be vital training tools.

Once you try the Crescent Bay, it’ll blow your mind. I tried the Oculus 1, and it was great. You thought about it as more of a game-playing device. When I saw Crescent Bay, though … my family lives in the U.K. When you see an environment where I could literally be seeing my parents, and we’d appear to be sitting down having a conversation in the same room. If I think how that could evolve into automotive or medical super fast, the VR we’re seeing today is just the beginning.

Finally he briefly discussed the major restructuring efforts that took place in the computing and graphics business unit under his charge and touched again on the importance of investing in software.

Looking at my business, client and graphics, I let go a third of the VPs involved in the business, a quarter of the directors. I took a whole chunk out of middle management, which is unusual. Normal that appears to be a protected species, but here it wasn’t. I wanted us to be faster. I no longer have two different product teams. I have one. People know where to go. When you’re the underdog, you have to have that underdog mentality. That’s why I did it.

We protected the road map. Nothing came off the road map, which is important. We protected R&D. I wanted us spending more, especially on software. Our hardware has always been good. I want to continue to work on our software optimization. There’s still hiring going on in key technical areas and other parts of the business.

Byrne has shaped AMD’s computing and graphics division into a smaller, sharper and more focused entity. As a result AMD’s strategy and goals are now more clearly defined and it has the necessary talent to carry them out. All of this is crucial to accelerate product development and shorten the time to market. The company is adapting to become a much more potent player in a fast-paced marketplace dynamic. The seeds have been planted and in the next couple of years we will see the majority of this fruit come to bare.

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