Intel, AMD Moves Rattle GPU Market

By George Leopold

November 10, 2017

Intel Corp. has lured away the former head of AMD’s graphics business as the world’s largest chipmaker forms a high-end graphics unit to compete with GPU market leader Nvidia.

Intel rattled tech markets this week by hiring AMD’s Raja Koduri to head its new Core and Visual Computing Group. The hiring came days after the chip rivals announced a graphics partnership.

Signaling its strategy of taking on Nvidia in the high-flying GPU market, Intel’s chief engineering officer, Murthy Renduchintala, said the hiring of Koduri underscored Intel’s “plans to aggressively expand our computing and graphics capabilities and build on our very strong and broad differentiated IP foundation.”

Koduri previously served as senior vice president and chief architect of AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group. There, he oversaw AMD’s graphics development. Koduri, 49, was Apple’s director of graphics architecture before joining AMD. At Apple, he led the company’s transition to Retina laptop displays.

Intel said Koduri would assume his new graphics duties in early December.

Raja Koduri

Koduri’s hiring sent AMD’s shares plummeting on the Nasdaq exchange, although they were beginning to recover on Friday (Nov. 10). Likewise, Nvidia’s shares sank on Thursday after Intel’s announcement but were up sharply by the end of the week after announcing record quarterly revenues.

Nvidia has been touting its accelerated GPU platforms with thousands of cores as the next step in computing as Moore’s Law runs out of steam. The reference to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore is seen as a shot across Intel’s bow by the GPU leader as the chipmakers mass their forces to compete in the nascent AI chip and algorithm markets.

“Being the world’s AI platform is our focus,” Greg Estes, Nvidia’s vice president of developer programs, stressed during a recent company event in Washington, DC.

Intel’s announcement of Koduri’s hiring came days after it unveiled a partnership with AMD to compete with Nvidia in the GPU market. “Our collaboration with Intel expands the installed base for AMD Radeon GPUs and brings to market a differentiated solution for high-performance graphics,” Scott Herkelman, vice president and general manager, AMD Radeon Technologies Group, noted in the press release.

AMD’s announcement of the Intel deal, reported elsewhere, was pulled from its website after the Koduri hiring was disclosed.

Intel said its new Core processor initially aimed at the gaming market would combine a high-performance CPU with AMD’s Radeon graphics components.

Hence, the high-end of the graphics market is shaping up as a battle between Nvidia’s many-core accelerated GPUs that emphasize parallelism versus Intel’s hybrid CPU-discrete graphics approach. While Intel emphasizes hardware horsepower through advances in high-bandwidth memory and new chip designs combined with discrete graphics, Nvidia is combining lots of many-core processors and big data to tackle emerging deep learning problems such as inference.

The key battleground will be the AI market where algorithms and APIs rather than traditional coding will help determine winners and losers, Nvidia’s Estes argued.

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