AMD's top chip designer leaves the firm

His work on the next-gen architecture is said to be done but it's still a huge loss.


AMD's Chief Architect of Microprocessor Cores Jim Keller is leaving the company after today "to pursue other opportunities," handing the struggling firm a huge loss as his new chip design remains delayed.

Keller was a DEC engineer who helped design the Alpha 21164 and 21264 processors before he joined AMD. In 1999 he left AMD and bounced around a few semiconductor companies, including Broadcom and later PA Semi, which Apple acquired, before returning to AMD in 2012. At AMD, he was responsible for designing a whole new microarchitecture, called Zen.

During his prior stint with AMD, Keller was involved in the development of the Athlon architecture, called K7, and served as a lead architect on the K8 architecture. He also created the world's first native x86-64 bit architecture used in the K8 and the HyperTransport interconnect used in AMD products. In addition to his AMD work, Keller helped develop the A4 and A5 SoCs Apple used in the iPhone 4 and iPad.

Tip of the hat to, which appears to be the first site to break the news. I've since confirmed it with AMD that Keller is leaving effective today (Sept. 18). The company provided me the following statement, the same one it sent HEXUS.

"Mark Papermaster [CTO of AMD] will be the acting leader of Jim’s team. Jim previously reported into Mark. Deep team was in place to drive completion phase of our next-generation 'Zen' core and associated system IP and SOCs. His departure is not expected to impact our public product or technology roadmaps, and we remain on track for 'Zen' availability in 2016 with first full year of revenue in 2017." speculated that Keller might have been fired because Zen is six to seven months late, which I kind of doubt. Engineers the caliber of Keller don't grow on trees. You don't bounce him that casually. A more likely theory from ET is that AMD has radically changed direction since Keller signed on in 2012 and he may not like where the company is going.

Whatever the reason – and we will likely know in the next few months – the optics on this are terrible. "Pursuing other opportunities" means there is no job waiting for him come Monday morning. Most folks try to have a new job waiting when they leave their current job. The fact one isn't means either he was fired, which I still don't believe, or he wanted out pretty badly.

At least his work on Zen appears to be done. ExtremeTech claims it is, and the fact that they have taped out a CPU means the design work should be finished. AMD's struggle now is to get it made. And survive.

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