Advanced Micro Devices has lured Jim Keller from his role as platform architect at Apple to head its processor group as the struggling company tries to reshape its chip strategy and stem a loss in processor market share.
Keller was part of the Apple team that developed processors for the iPad, iPhone and Apple TV. In the role of corporate vice president and chief architect of AMD’s microprocessor cores, Keller will now lead the company’s processor design efforts. AMD has virtually no presence in the growing tablet market and has been losing x86 processor market share to main rival Intel.
Keller has a history with AMD: He once worked in its chip design team and worked on the Athlon 64 and Opteron 64 processors. He joined Apple in 2008 when it acquired low-power processor company PA Semi, where he was vice president of design. He will report to AMD’s chief technology officer Mark Papermaster, who was a top Apple executive, but fell out of favor at the company after the iPhone 4’s problems with its antenna and reception issues.
The move comes at a time when AMD has been losing key executives and designers to rivals. Samsung earlier this year hired former AMD server executive Pat Patla in a bid to kick-start its server business, and Qualcomm in May hired former AMD graphics chief technology officer Eric Demers.
AMD has taken a new direction since Rory Read was appointed CEO in August last year. It has opened up its chips to integration with third-party intellectual property so it can offer customized chips. In June it said it would break away from its reliance on x86 and integrate ARM processors in its chips.
Keller has dabbled with a variety of processor architectures including PowerPC, x86, MIPS, Alpha and ARM, so the experience could help AMD integrate third-party IP into its chips. This might give AMD more opportunities in markets like tablets, where x86 chips have not succeeded.
In February, AMD ripped up its old chip roadmap and announced new processors and CPU cores for tablets, PCs and servers. AMD already offers chips with integrated graphics and CPU cores, and is looking to blur the line further between the processing units by sharing a memory pool and running common software applications.
AMD’s most recent server CPU core, Bulldozer, was considered a disappointment, and its PC CPU core, code-named Piledriver, is at the center of the recently announced A-series processors that are now available in laptops. Analysts agree that Intel offers a better CPU than AMD, but the scale tilts in AMD’s favor on graphics processors.
AMD is also struggling financially, with the company in mid-July reporting a year-over-year revenue drop of 10 percent for the second fiscal quarter. The company’s profit also dropped during the quarter as processor demand slowed in some parts of the world with weakness in PC shipments. Chip companies have projected a bleak outlook for the rest of the year.
AMD is also looking to diversify into tablets later this year with the launch of a new low-power chip called Hondo. AMD will compete in that market with Intel and ARM, whose processors go into most tablets.