Jim Keller, former chief architect of microprocessor cores at AMD, left the chip company for the second time last week to pursue other opportunities. Keller was in charge of the company’s next-generation x86 “Zen” cores, which take center stage in AMD’s roadmap and in its strategy to combat larger rival Intel. Not due out until sometime next year, a successful launch may be AMD’s final chance to reverse a multi-year slide.
AMD downplayed the significance of Keller’s departure, telling news source Hexus that it is still on track to sample “Zen” in 2016 and record first revenues in 2017. Mark Papermaster, AMD’s chief technology officer and senior vice president, will take over Keller’s responsibilities.
Keller left AMD the first time in 1999. Although there less than two years, he helped develop AMD’s Athlon K7 processor and served as the lead architect of the K8 microarchitecture. He also co-authored the HyperTransport specification and x86-64 processor instruction set. He came back to AMD in 2012 to supervise development of the “Zen” architecture and related IP. The brand new x86 processor cores are said to offer improved instructions per clock of up to 40 percent over “Excavator” cores and support simultaneous multithreading.
AMD’s plan is to promote Zen to gamers first, but the x86 core is also integral to AMD’s return to HPC and to its vision for exascale computing. The pinnacle of that return is a new high-performance server APU that combines Zen cores and with multi-teraflops of GPU-capability. As we learned from a recent IEEE paper, AMD is working on a giant APU, dubbed the “Exascale Heterogeneous Processor” or EHP for short. This gigantic APU unites 32 Zen Cores with a Greenland graphics die and 32 GB of HBM2 memory on board a 2.5D interposer.
With stakes this high, and the Zen chip still months away from launch, how will Keller’s departure affect the success of AMD’s next-gen x86 processor core and related IP? Claims are circulating that Zen won’t arrive until the fourth quarter of 2016. Will that be soon enough to escape marginalization from Intel’s revamped lineup including the 10nm Cannonlake, due out in 2017?
Only time will tell, but the message from AMD is that its public product and technology roadmaps remain unchanged.