AMD president dismisses drive for processing power

TORONTO – Advanced Micro Devices Inc. president and COO Dirk Meyer says he will provide partners access to the company’s microprocessor technology to encourage innovation in an industry he claims is stagnating.

The problem, he said, is the preoccupation with processor speed. As far back as 1999, the year AMD released its first 1 GHz CPU, it was becoming clear that ramping up processor speed is a bottomless pit.

Meyer made his comments on Thursday to a small assembly of microprocessor professionals at an event sponsored by Information Technology Association of Canada.

“This picture represents a sick industry,” said Meyer, pointing to a chart that demonstrated that PC manufacturers are barely breaking even. The only exception is Dell, which is managing to make money based on its direct sales model. “This, in our view, is a bad picture and things need to change.”

He said the fact that IBM recently shed its own PC business, turning it over to Chinese firm Lenovo through a partnership agreement, is indicative of this trend, adding that building faster processors is not going to save an ailing business.

The drive for more processing power is a “single-minded, nose-in-the-dirt way of innovation . . . something that needs to re-evaluated once in a while,” he said.

AMD’s solution is to make more of its manufacturing process available to other developers, including the “secret sauce” that establishes connections between microprocessor components – not as an open source free-for-all, but by licensing the technology to more firms.

Some of this work has already been done by through a growing enterprise movement towards software virtualization, he said – users access their software on thin clients while a server hosts the applications and shoulders the brunt of the processing work.

The company’s recent acquisition of Markham, Ont.-based graphics chip company ATI is rooted in this thinking, said Meyer. More and more of a CPU’s processing power is being offloaded to the graphics processing unit. The new joint company plans to take its collective knowledge and apply it to new areas of processing.

In a recent interview with, former ATI CEO Dave Orton, now executive vice-president of AMD’s visual and media business, said, “One of the key things we talked about was that it was a merger for growth, not a merger for cost synergies.”

The same day as Meyer’s speech, AMD announced the availability of Quad FX, a dual-socket, multi-core desktop platform designed for the gamer/PC enthusiast market.

“I don’t want you to think that we’ve given up transistors altogether,” said Meyer. We “haven’t.”

But, he said, the next stage should be to encourage the innovation of processors towards increasingly specialization and develop solutions that are tailored towards individual processing needs, like XML or Java acceleration.

“There’s a big win” in specialization in the processor market, said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at the Linley Group, which is already happening in areas like video processing and cryptographic processing. “XML is another thing that people are working on. There’s been a lot of examples outside of the PC space. I think at some point that feeds back in and I think that’s what AMD is looking at.”

Meyer also took the opportunity to reaffirm AMD’s commitment to the Canadian market, calling the former ATI office the second most important site for AMD after its West Coast operations and announcing plans to add to the workforce in Markham. He promised to “grow the companies together and innovate in ways that simply wouldn’t be possible through arms length partnerships.”

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