The Expected Unexpected

Raja has been a staple at AMD for 15 years, but now moves onto Intel

Last night we first received word that Raja had resigned from AMD (during a sabbatical) after they had launched Vega.  The initial statement was that Raja would come back to resume his position at AMD in a December/January timeframe.  During this time there was some doubt as to if Raja would in fact come back to AMD, as “sabbaticals” in the tech world would often lead the individual to take stock of their situation and move on to what they would consider to be greener pastures.

Raja has dropped by the PCPer offices in the past.

Initially it was thought that Raja would take the time off and then eventually jump to another company and tackle the issues there.  This behavior is quite common in Silicon Valley and Raja is no stranger to this.  Raja cut his teeth on 3D graphics at S3, but in 2001 he moved to ATI.  While there he worked on a variety of programs including the original Radeon, the industry changing Radeon 9700 series, and finishing up with the strong HD 4000 series of parts.  During this time ATI was acquired by AMD and he became one of the top graphics guru at that company.  In 2009 he quit AMD and moved on to Apple.  He was Director of Graphics Architecture at Apple, but little is known about what he actually did.  During that time Apple utilized AMD GPUs and licensed Imagination Technologies graphics technology.  Apple could have been working on developing their own architecture at this point, which has recently showed up in the latest iPhone products.

In 2013 Raja rejoined AMD and became a corporate VP of Visual Computing, but in 2015 he was promoted to leading the Radeon Technology Group after Lisu Su became CEO of the company. While there Raja worked to get AMD back on an even footing under pretty strained conditions. AMD had not had the greatest of years and had seen their primary moneymakers start taking on water.  AMD had competitive graphics for the most part, and the Radeon technology integrated into AMD’s APUs truly was class leading.  On the discrete side AMD was able to compare favorably to NVIDIA with the HD 7000 and later R9 200 series of cards.  After NVIDIA released their Maxwell based chips, AMD had a hard time keeping up.  The general consensus here is that the RTG group saw its headcount decreased by the company-wide cuts as well as a decrease in R&D funds.

AMD was in trouble, and to turn things around they chose for RTG to tread water with their GPU offerings while strengthening their core CPU business.  This is not to say that RTG did not explore new and different avenues.  The Radeon Fury was one of those avenues, but it came a little too late.  Work on the next generation of parts featuring the Polaris architecture was well underway, but the design goals seemed fairly mundane as compared to what NVIDIA was pushing with their Pascal architecture.  AMD has sold their Polaris based parts very well due to new crypto-mining, but for the core gaming market it has not stacked up well to NVIDIA.

The Vega Stack.

The Vega launch was supposed to propel AMD into the GPU stratosphere.  It was a much more aggressive part in terms of design and this was expected to give it a real boost in performance and efficiency.  It would support the latest High Bandwidth Memory 2 specification allowing it to support 8 to 16 GB of memory running at 500 GB/sec of throughput at relatively low power levels.  It would integrate the latest Infinity Fabric that AMD developed to provide high speed data movement as well as fine grained power control and gating.  Sadly, the final product did not quite meet expectations.  This is not to say that Vega is not competitive, because in pure performance it is.  It just requires more power and runs a little hotter to achieve the same performance as comparable NVIDIA parts at those price ranges.

AMD really had little choice in the matter in how they addressed RTG.  The company was desperate to claw back CPU marketshare as it was still their primary business.  Getting Zen to market in a timely manner was of the utmost importance, and I believe funds and manpower were prioritized in that direction while leaving RTG in a somewhat depleted position.  RTG also had to support the Raven Ridge products by successfully integrating the Vega GPU component into the APU.  Getting this product to work with the new Infinity Fabric with the brand new Zen cores likely was no simple task. (Also, supporting semi-custom designs for Xbox and PlayStation also drained resources.)

Image courtesy of Intel Corp.

Raja was able to oversee these projects successfully.  They were mostly on time and within rough specifications.  I just do not think that Raja had a lot of help in keeping the boat afloat with the focus on the CPU portion of the company.  There have been no real breaks for Raja since he assumed the lead of RTG.  Vacations were likely few and far between considering the position RTG was in.  Burn out had to be a big factor in Raja’s decision to leave the company.

Speculation of where Raja would go was rife after the resignation.  Some thought he would go back to Apple, others considered a spot at Tesla along with Jim Keller (also formerly of AMD), and then there was the rumor that he had in fact been hired by Intel.  Today we found out that Intel is the correct answer.

« PreviousNext »