From ATI to AMD back to ATI? A Journey in Futility

Trouble is brewing for AMD, Radeon Technologies Group, and Lisa Su, CEO and President. While on the surface it may just seem as though AMD engineers have once again missed the mark when it comes to building a new high-end graphics technology, but there is a lot more to the story.

As AMD prepares for a critical launch of its most recent GPUs in Macau, China this weekend for its public debut next week on the 31st, it faces an unprecedented amount of turmoil and uncertainty around its graphics business spurred by a lack of leadership, a newfound culture clash, and out-of-control egos eager to get into a DeLorean to rewind the clock to 2004.

Let’s start with where we are currently. Full disclosure - HardOCP was not invited to this weekend’s launch in Macau as AMD PR has made a decision to no longer brief this site with the rest of the industry. That’s well within AMD’s rights to do, but that is telling as well. The fact that the launch is in Macau is also very telling. AMD has a reputation of holding GPU launches in exotic locations when trying to obscure a deficient product that doesn’t cut the mustard ( Anyone remember Tunis? ) آ– this is a Chris Hook special and something AMD’s current head of marketing has been doing for years. While you will no doubt hear AMD wax poetic next week on the merits of Polaris 10 and Polaris 11 and 14nm goodness the reality will be quite different.

What HardOCP knows from sources inside and outside the company, AMD has a problem on its hands, as both these products have come up significantly short of where these were supposed to land. But that is OK for AMD, it will simply send Chris Hook out to fall on the sword and tell a story of that was the plan all produce brand new parts much slower than its last high end GPUs. In the simplest terms AMD has created a product that runs hotter and slower than its competition's new architecture by a potentially significant margin. Let the internal finger-pointing begin! The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 and 1070 launch was a surprise to AMD and it simply does not have a harpoon for Moby Dick this time...again. One could go as far as saying that the potential exists for another R600 moment. Now, I am sure AMD will take every step possible to mitigate this gap but the simple reality of the situation as it stands today is that AMD has a loser on its hands and are going to have to pull every trick in the book to spit-shine the turds, and the fact of the matter is pricing is how you do that. All is definitely not fine in Radeon-land these days.

Let’s move onto the bigger issue آ– the desire of AMD’s current GPU leadership to spin off from the rest of AMD and become "ATI" again. There’s been lots made of the current leadership structure of the Radeon Technologies Group (RTG) led by Raja Koduri and his band of ATI loyalists. After conversations with a number of current and recently departed employees a clear picture emerges. A picture ripe with tension, blind ambition, and backwards thinking.

Let’s start with the tension. Koduri was able to wrestle control of the graphics division away during AMD’s last leadership transition after threatening to leave the ship and take a role at Intel, something he's not shy about telling his AMD colleagues. Lisa Su caved and Koduri got the job.

Now what we have is a dysfunctional and acrimonious relationship between the CEO and the head of the Radeon Technologies Group. One just has to look at the uncomfortable interaction between the two on the stage at the recent Game Developers Conference "Capsaicin" event and the body language says it all.

Where the plot thickens is when you look at the Koduri’s unwavering ambition. Koduri’s ultimate goal is to separate the Radeon Technologies Group from its corporate parent at all costs with the delusion that RTG will be more competitive with NVIDIA and become a possible acquisition target for Koduri and his band of mutineers to cash in when it's sold. While Koduri is known to have a strong desire to do this by forging a new relationship with Apple on custom parts (no surprise there) for Macbooks, the real focus is on trying to become the GPU technology supplier of choice to none other than Intel. While this was speculated some time ago I can tell you with certainty that a deal is in the works with Intel and Koduri and his team of marauders working overtime to get the deal pulled into port ASAP. The Polaris 10/11 launch, and all of its problems, are set to become a future problem of Intel’s in what RTG believes will be a lucrative agreement that will allow Koduri and his men to slash the lines from Lisa Su and the rest of AMD.

With Intel in the midst of a shake-up under their new chief product guy, Murthy Renduchintala, the consequences of this agreement with AMD and subsequently the Radeon Technologies Group are significant. In the midst of Intel’s most significant layoffs in recent memory, looking to be around 12,000 positions, it has let go a significant number of graphics engineers and related functions (I am told well over 1,000) in anticipation that Intel will hand over many of these functions to AMD. This is a hell of a bet for new executive "Murthy" Renduchintala while under fire to take on an unproven team with a track record of false starts and missed engineering milestones. Whether Murthy will come to his senses before it’s too late remains to be seen. This is not ATI circa 2006, when Murthy (formerly at Qualcomm) bought a talented group of engineers formerly of ATI’s Imageon business. Murthy must know something we don’t about this team and for Intel’s sake I hope he’s right, because to us, it seems to be a bad bet.

What about that backwards thinking I touched on earlier? When I look at an organization like the Radeon Technologies Group and its core focus right now, it has all but abandoned the AMD CPU team who are a distant priority in the mind of Koduri and his lieutenants (and it could easily be argued that Rory Read caused this full disconnect to start unravelling years ago with his disdain for the GPU group). The promise that was the marriage of once again having a best-in-class CPU and leading GPU technology is dead and it’s never coming back to AMD. That ship has sailed much to the chagrin of a large group of AMD-ers in Austin, TX. That is not to say that there is not a place at tech table with AMD’s name on it, but it is relegating its own assets to push forward others’ tech in hopes of finding a bone on the floor to give it sustenance.

I can already hear the fanboys ripping into my thoughts here yelling about the HardOCP's NVIDIA and Intel bias. This editorial is based on what I hear throughout the industry from insiders that know what is going on inside of AMD. AMD is not in a good place and there is no shortage of current and recently departed employees that are eager to share their take on what's going on. Lisa Su has lost command of her ship, and Koduri is about to put it on the beach and hope he can make it to shore in his Radeon Technologies Group lifeboat.