There has been quite a bit of news lately from AMD, and very little of it good. What has perhaps dominated the headlines throughout this past year was the amount of veteran AMD employees who have decided (or were pushed) to seek employment elsewhere. Not much has been said from these departing employees, but Rory Read certainly started things off with a bang by laying off some 10% of the company just months into his tenure.
Now we finally have some good news in terms of employment. AMD has hired a pretty big name in the industry. Not just a big name, but a person who was one of the primary leads on two of AMD’s most successful architectures to date. Jim Keller is coming back to AMD, and at a time where it seems AMD needs some veteran leadership who is very in touch with not just the industry, but CPU architecture design.
Jim was a veteran of DEC and worked on some of the fastest Alpha processors of the time. Much could be written about DEC and how they let what could have been one of the most important and profitable architectures in computing history sit essentially on the back burner while they focused on seemingly dinosaur age computing. After the Alpha was sold off and DEC sold away, Jim found his way to AMD and played a very important role at that company.
The first product was helping to launch the K7, and worked primarily with system engineering. The vast majority of design work for the K7 was finished by the time he signed on, but he apparently worked quite a bit on integrating it into the new socket architecture that was derived from the DEC Alpha. Where Jim really earned his keep was in co-authoring the x86-64 specification and being lead architect on the AMD K8 series of processors. While he left in 1999, the mark he left on AMD is essentially indelible.
After AMD he joined Sibyte (Broadcom) and was lead architect on a series of MIPS processors used in networking devices. This lasted until 2003 and he again left the company seemingly more prosperous than when he began.
PA-Semi was the next stop and he worked again primarily on networking specific SOCs utilizing the PowerPC architecture. So far, by counting fingers, Jim has worked on five major ISAs (Alpha, x86, x86-64, MIPS, and PowerPC). These chips were able to power networking devices with 10 Gb throughput. PA-Semi was then purchased by Apple in 2007/2008.
At Apple Jim was now Director of Platform Architecture and worked with yet another major ISA; ARM. Jim worked to develop several major and successful products with the A4 and A5 processors that have powered the latest iPhone and iPad products from the Cupertino giant. To say that this individual has had his fingers in some very important pies is an understatement.
Jim now rejoins AMD as CVP and Chief Architect of CPU Cores. He will report directly to Mark Papermaster. His primary job is to improve execution efficiency and consistency, as well as implement next generation features into future CPU cores which will keep AMD competitive with not only Intel, but other rising competitors in the low power space. This is finally some good news for AMD as they are actually adding talent rather than losing it. While Jim may not be able to turn the company around overnight, he does look to be an important piece of the puzzle with a huge amount of experience and knowhow with multiple CPU ISA. If there is anyone that can tackle the challenges in front of AMD in the face of a changing world, this might be the guy. So far he has had a positive impact in every stop he has made, and perhaps this could prove to be the pinnacle of his career. Or it could be where his career goes to die. It is hard to say, but I do think that AMD made a good hire with Jim.