The first moon landing had yet to happen, Led Zeppelin had just released its first album and The Beatles had just performed their last public concert on the roof of the Apple Records building. It’s May 1969, and in California Jerry Sanders III and a team of seven colleagues had just used $100,000 to set up a company that would help to shape the computer business in the decades to come. That company was AMD, and it will be celebrating its 40th birthday tomorrow (1 May).

Starting out as a manufacturer of logic chips, and then later moving into RAM chips and clones of Intel’s CPUs, AMD has since gone on to develop technologies that have changed the computing industry. These include the first 64-bit instruction set for desktop CPUs (AMD64), as well as the first desktop CPUs with an integrated memory controller.

Although times are still tough for AMD at the moment, the company’s Vice President of Advanced Marketing, Pat Moorhead, pointed out on his blog that AMD has already overcome a number of challenges throughout the last 20 years. Moorhead lists a number of general comments from pundits over the time, such as “you have the 386 mask set, but not the microcode. No way can you make a 386,” and “you are nuts if you think you can drive a 64-bit instruction set by yourselves,” and answers each one with “but AMD did it.”

Without a hint of modesty, Moorhead also compares AMD’s defiance of the pundits to the moon landing, which happened a few months after AMD was founded. “Pundits laughed when Kennedy set his challenge to send a man to the moon and return him safely by the end of the 1960s,” says Moorhead, “we like our moon-shots at AMD, too, and surprising the pundits again and again.”

On another blog, AMD’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Nigel Dessau, admitted that “these are challenging economic times” but was still confident that “the best is yet to come” from AMD. “AMD continues to drive innovation in the industry with new technologies and platforms that are designed for where the industry is heading,” says Dessau. He cites the ATI Radeon HD 4000-series of GPUs, the Yukon platform for ultraportable laptops and its new energy-efficient Opteron CPU as examples of this.

The company has decided to mark the occasion with a couple of competitions, with loads of prizes on offer. The first is a competition to make a short (up to a minute) video that says “Happy 40th Anniversary AMD” in the most interesting way possible. “You can say it, sing it, paint it on a wall, whatever…just make sure it’s included,” says AMD. Three winners of this competition will get a Radeon HD 4890, while a further 40 runners up will get a Radeon HD 4650.

The second competition is a photo contest, for which AMD is requesting “the most iconic photo you can create which expresses your love of AMD.” Hinting at possible ideas, AMD suggests: “got an AMD tattoo? Prove it. Have an especially awesome AMD technology-based setup in your home or office? Show it off. How many AMD logos (non-digital please, anybody can do that) can you squeeze into the frame? Be creative!” The five winners of the competition will get a Phenom II X4 Black Edition CPU and an Asus M4A78T-E motherboard, while eight runners up will win a an Athlon 7850 CPU and a Gigabyte GA-MA780G-UD3H motherboard.

Got some good ideas? You can find details on how to enter the competitions at AMD’s 40th Anniversary website. Will you be entering either of the competitions, and do you share Dessau’s optimism about AMD’s future? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.
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