AMD’s history has been well documented, especially given several reorganizations in the early part of this decade along with changes in senior staff and how both its market share in CPU and GPU markets is progressing. Today we have learned that one of those senior staff, the head of the CPU group Jim Keller, is to leave AMD effective September 18th (today).  Readers may remember that Jim Keller was a recent re-hire in 2012, tasked with leading AMD's CPU group and helping the company develop new core processor architectures in order to bring AMD's architecture in line the competition.

Jim Keller has worked at AMD before, most notably developing the K7 and K8 processors that formed the basis of much of AMD’s success at the turn of the century. This includes assisting in the generation of the x86-64 instruction set that would form the basis of many of the x86 based computers people used today. At other points in time Jim has also spent several years each at Apple helping design their A4 and A5 SoCs as well as at DEC on Alpha processors, giving him a wide degree of experience in CPU development that AMD has been tapping during his latest tenure there.

As a re-hire at the top of the CPU chain, Keller's latest project at AMD was to develop the next generation of high performance processors for AMD and to build a team around the concept of PC performance. This was announced as a rapid departure from the module design of Bulldozer-based cores sharing parts of a processor and towards a new base architecture called Zen. Other projects in the pipeline at AMD CPU group include ARM-based AMD processors (K12), an ARM counterpart of sorts for Zen that is set to launch later on.

As for the big question, the state of Zen, along with confirming that Keller is leaving the company today, AMD is also officially reiterating that their roadmaps are still on course, with Zen set to come to market in the latter half of 2016 and a first full preiod of revenue to be reported in 2017. Given the long (4+ year) design cycles for a modern high-performance CPU, at this point in time all of the "heavy lifting" on Zen development should be done. With only a year or so to go before launch, the rest of Keller's team at AMD will be focusing on fixing bugs and bringing products to manufacturing.

As a result while the loss of Keller is certainly a significant one for AMD, Keller's architecture work on Zen should already be complete, which is likely why we are seeing him leave at this time. And as a quick aside to give you an idea of CPU development timelines, by comparison, Jim's work on K8 was done over 3 years before K8 shipped in 2003. Consequently the biggest loss for AMD here shouldn't be Zen-related, but rather that they won't have Keller's talents to call upon for further refinements of Zen or for a post-Zen architecture.

Meanwhile leadership of the CPU architecture team in Keller's absence will be turned over to CTO Mark Papermaster, who will be leading the group as they wrap up work on Zen. AMD is calling Mark the "acting leader" of the group, so this is likely an interim posting while AMD looks to find or promote someone to lead the CPU architecture group on a permanent basis. Otherwise as we're approaching the end of the fiscal quarter, AMD is in their quiet period, so AMD is limited in what they can say at this time. I suspect we'll hear a bit more on the plan for the final year of Zen development in the company's Q3 earnings release, which will be on October 14th.

Finally, it will be interesting to see if and when Keller will pop up next in the industry. Given his history of switching jobs to work on new CPU projects and his high level of skill which has allowed him to so freely move between companies, we may yet see Keller show up on another CPU project in the future. On the other hand after having worked for AMD twice and Apple, Keller has certainly earned an early retirement. In the meantime with the launch of Zen closing in for AMD, all eyes will be on just what Keller and his team have put together for AMD's next generation CPU.

Source: AMD
Top image (from left): Mark Papermaster (CTO), Dr. Lisa Su (CEO), Simon Segars (CEO of ARM), Jim Keller

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  • looncraz - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    Yep, that is his modus operandi, for sure.

    Some have tried to equate this as evidence that Zen will be a failure, whereas I view it as Keller believing his job is done and he could do more somewhere else.

    The first time around AMD only had him for one year and he helped transform the entire market with the K7 CPU and other technologies. This time, AMD was much further behind, but he spent three years there working on the problem. With any luck, they have achieved their goals, or even exceeded them.

    I am quite confident that if there was a significant failure that Keller would have stayed until it was resolved, and AMD would delay until they had a powerful enough product, bringing the AM4 platform out with the Excavator-based APUs and the promise of Zen would even create a ready-to-upgrade market.
  • Refuge - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    I agree with almost everything you've said.

    But AMD won't wait until things are right to release, they will just stack product slides to their favor, and release a gold plated turd. They've proven this time and time and TIME again.
  • Cooe - Sunday, February 28, 2021 - link

    Hahahahaha. And yet I'm here from the future where the only "gold plated turd CPU's" coming out of fab's are those with big ol' "Intel" signs out front ;).
  • Reflex - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    What racist and sexist hiring bonuses..? First I've heard of that.
  • Sttm - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    Intel is paying a $4000 bonus for candidates who are not white or Asian males. Intentionally discriminating against white and Asian male applicants.
  • D. Lister - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    Do you actually have a legitimate reference for that claim?
  • Drumsticks - Friday, September 18, 2015 - link

    As somebody who interned at Intel this summer, he's half right. The REFERRAL bonuses for referring a Hispanic or female new hire (for example) is higher than that of a non minority.

    I don't really view it as racist or sexist though. They aren't taking away from the normal referral bonus, they just have it doubled for employees helping bring minority talent into the field.

    It's not really discrimination though since its a referral, IMO. If I have white and hispanic friends, I'm going to refer them both.
  • D. Lister - Saturday, September 19, 2015 - link

    Ah, that makes a lot more sense. Thanks for the explaination.
  • Oxford Guy - Saturday, September 19, 2015 - link

    Whenever someone is paid more than someone else just because of their sex or ethnicity...
  • Reflex - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    As pointed out, the employee is not being paid more for their gender or ethnicity. The person who referred them is being given a larger bonus to get them to consider candidates beyond the majority.

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