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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  • Gigaplex - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    That's still one person being paid more than they otherwise would have been, simply based off race or gender (whether of themselves or some third party).
  • Sttm - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    Which gives that person a way to make more money by basing their referrals on race and gender. Which is fucked up.
  • Reflex - Monday, September 21, 2015 - link

    Again, no, an employee making a referral is paid a fixed bonus. An additional amount is given if they candidate comes from certain underrepresented classes. However the regular bonus is still in place. Those bonuses range from $3000-5000 typically. I do not know anyone who would say "I have three white engineering friends, three asian engineering friends and two black engineering friends, I will forget referring the first six because the last two will get me more." Employees can refer as many people as they wish, I can't see leaving thousands of dollars on the table as reasonable, anyone who gets hired gets them a bonus.

    Seriously, that is ridiculous.
  • Refuge - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    Its supply and demand, probably has something to do with diversity and tax write offs.

    So if you have a problem with it take it up with our wonderful government and their ridiculous tax breaks/rules.
  • Reflex - Monday, September 21, 2015 - link

    Refuge -

    It is due to making the workforce represent the customer base, a sound business strategy. There are no additional writeoffs or tax breaks, but you do gain more insight into product development which is very valuable.
  • Sttm - Monday, September 21, 2015 - link

    What insight would that be? That black women like slower CPUs? That Hispanic Men want a larger core count? Its a CPU business, not a grocery store.
  • Reflex - Monday, September 21, 2015 - link

    sttm -

    Intel does a lot more than just develop a CPU and toss it onto the market. They build various real and proposed form factors often targeted at different markets, different regions, and different use cases. If their employees do not come from those regions, markets, backgrounds, etc they run the risk of missing entire classes of markets just as they missed the move to mobile in 2007. A diverse workforce is one that is more likely to avoid missing anything.
  • easp - Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - link

    Sttm, you mistake your own ignorance for understanding. It isn't an admirable trait, but it isn't exactly unusual either. Its hard to understand one's own biases, particularly when one spends a lot of time in the company of people who share similar biases.

    You know what helps with that? Mixing people together with different backgrounds. It works best though if you can keep out the jerks though, the people who refuse to admit, even to just themselves, that other people might have a point.
  • Sttm - Sunday, September 20, 2015 - link

    They pay more money, they make an investment in that referral. You can't put money into the system to favor a candidate, and then expect the company not to biased to the candidate they invested more in.
  • xthetenth - Monday, September 21, 2015 - link

    Yes, they're paying to get people to look more at groups where it historically takes more credentials to be taken as seriously, and are likely to have qualified candidates looking hard for work. What horror.

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