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AMD re-hires Athlon 64 K8 designer Jim Keller

AMD re-hires Athlon 64 K8 designer Jim Keller

Jim Keller's return to AMD suggests the company is at least considering ditching Bulldozer in favour of a revised K8 design - much as Intel did with Netburst.

AMD has rehired the man largely responsible for the design of the Athlon 64 and Opteron 64 processors - the first chips to feature a native x86-64 architecture - suggesting that the company is rethinking the whole Bulldozer approach to chip design.

AMD has successfully poached Jim Keller from Apple, where he was a director of the product architecture group specialising in the company's mobile chips following apple's acquisition of fabless low-power chip specialist P.A. Semi. Prior to that, however, Keller was an AMD man, having been part of the design team responsible for the highly successful Athlon 64 and Opteron 64 laptop, desktop and server chips.

Since Keller's departure, to Broadcom, then SiByte, and on to P.A. Semi before being acqui-hired by Apple, AMD appears to have lost its way. Even the company's most hardened fans admit that Bulldozer has been a bit of a damp squib - somewhat analogous to the missteps made by rival Intel in the design of the Pentium 4, which allowed AMD to gain significant ground thanks to its far more efficient designs - and while its Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) products are generating plenty of buzz at the lower end it is blocked out of the mobile market by the likes of Intel and ARM's multitudinous licensees.

With Keller back, it's possible that AMD's fortunes could turn around. A co-author of the HyperTransport specification and the x86-64 instruction set architecture, there's no denying Keller's experience or ability - and while he may have been working on mobile system-on-chip (SoC) designs for the last few years, he's unlikely to have lost his touch for efficient high-performance designs.

'Jim is one of the most widely respected and sought-after innovators in the industry and a very strong addition to our engineering team," claimed AMD's Mark Papermaster in a statement on Keller's re-hiring. '[i]He has contributed to processing innovations that have delivered tremendous compute advances for millions of people all over the world, and we expect that his innovative spirit, low-power design expertise, creativity and drive for success will help us shape our future and fuel our growth.'

Keller's official role at the company is that of corporate vice president and chief architect of the microprocessor arm, reporting directly to Papermaster. Whether Keller's return suggests that, like Intel and Netburst before it, AMD is thinking about ditching Bulldozer and returning to an enhanced version of the K8 design remains to be seen.

12 Comments

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Harlequin 2nd August 2012, 11:19 Quote
AMD need to throw away synthetic designing and go back to hand crafting , the `man in the loop` who can see what will work and what wont, where a CAD programme cant tell the difference.
Elton 2nd August 2012, 12:04 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Harlequin
AMD need to throw away synthetic designing and go back to hand crafting , the `man in the loop` who can see what will work and what wont, where a CAD programme cant tell the difference.

This pretty much. But will they ditch bulldozer? Nope, not if they follow their own roadmap. They've got a few more iterations of it. And truth be told, it isn't nearly as bad as other say it is. Outside of the relatively bad misprediction penalty and the abnormal voltage leakage spike (perhaps the Gate first issues) it's not a bad chip. Just a sub-par one in comparison to intel's offerings.
aLtikal 2nd August 2012, 12:14 Quote
Intel need competition fast in the enthusiast market segment and AMD wont manage that if they stick their current course. A new direction is needed and the sooner the better.

That said, AMD's APU's are still very good.
Action_Parsnip 2nd August 2012, 12:36 Quote
"AMD has rehired the man largely responsible for the design of the Athlon 64 and Opteron 64 processors - the first chips to feature a native x86-64 architecture - suggesting that the company is rethinking the whole Bulldozer approach to chip design."

Nothing of the sort. It suggests they want the man who built Apple it's SoCs to build their own new SoCs.
whatsthatnoise 2nd August 2012, 13:50 Quote
What makes you so sure that he is hired for a new desktop cpu? And not for a mobile one? Seems more likely. ;-)
Gareth Halfacree 2nd August 2012, 14:26 Quote
I'm sticking with the prediction I made in Micro Mart's Bulldozer feature: just as Intel did with Netburst and the P4s, AMD will eventually discard Bulldozer (on the desktop, at least - servers are another matter) for an upgraded version of the K8 architecture. It took Intel six years to make that decision; it just remains to be seen how long it takes AMD to come to the same conclusion.
greigaitken 2nd August 2012, 14:34 Quote
seems stupid to have had a policy to let good engineers be poached. Surely the best engineers are worth 1,000 times their salary to amd, why didnt they just double / treble his salary at the time so he would stay. Do this with the other engineers too and push for the next product to keep moving instead of stalling and losing billions.

*I only run a small business in order to make money. The above comment assumes amd have the same goal.
whatsthatnoise 2nd August 2012, 15:37 Quote
Even though it would be awesome to see AMD trying to keep up its desktop business. Its a bit contrary to what they announced lately. Like not keeping up the race with intel, planned revisions of bulldozer (piledriver being the first) and the announcement to expand into other platforms (mobile).

Again, i hope you are right, though.
themassau 2nd August 2012, 17:23 Quote
i think that amd will en up between a k8 and bulldozer chip. like a k8 whit CMT. if amds had marketed there 8 core for a 4 core whit mulittreading then it would have been seen al a much better chip.

the gpu will become the FPU in the future and the modular design is the idea behind bulldozer not the high clocks.

also the flex plex fpu is a nice idea they will probably make it wider like 512bit and split-able to 64 or 128 bit.

(maybe they break the module apart so you could use all the fpu for one core or share it between all of them. i havn't had computer architectures yet so i don't know if that is possible).

bulldozer is also a higher clocked design. maybe they hoped that it would be possible whit the new processes.
but it isn't completely like netburst .

in the netburst architecture the alus where double pumped so if the P4 ran at 3 ghz the alu ran at 6 ghz. that's why it used a lot of power.
.//TuNdRa 2nd August 2012, 18:00 Quote
It's entirely possible that their short-term plan is unchanged, it'll take a while before new ideas filter into bulldozer, so Piledriver likely isn't going to change much, off what's already been announced, consecutive versions, however, may be much better.

It does mean, however, that two years down the line, or more, AMD might finally get their arse into gear and start producing chips worth half a damn.
phuzz 3rd August 2012, 21:28 Quote
If/when I upgrade in the next 6 months it'll be to Intel (again), but I hope next time after that there'll be a credible AMD alternative, if only to drive competition and push prices down for everyone.
Elton 3rd August 2012, 21:32 Quote
What I'm wondering is how the whole node process will go down. As we know it, 7nm is about the limit. If AMD can hold on long enough, I have an inkling that once the process node wars end, (and things stop shrinking so quickly) then there will be some more interesting instruction set and architecture revolutions. Moore's law may be gone by then, but that's when things will get very interesting.
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