Intel Hires Ex-AMD Lead Architect Jim Keller, Confirms Technology And Manufacturing Group Changes

Intel announced that it has hired famed chip designer Jim Keller to head up its silicon engineering. Intel's press release also has a few interesting tidbits that hinted the company restructured its CISA group, which consists of its IoT businesses and system architecture design groups. We've since confirmed that Intel has brought its silicon manufacturing group (TMG) under the CISA umbrella.

Intel also recently hired former AMD executive Raja Koduri, a premier name in graphics architecture designs, so it's clear the company is collecting some of the best and brightest minds in the semiconductor industry as it struggles to ramp its long-overdue 10nm process.

Jim Keller hails from Tesla, where he served as the Vice President of Autopilot and Low Voltage Hardware. More importantly, Keller was the lead architect of AMD's Zen microarchitecture while he was the company's corporate vice president and chief cores architect. Keller is also famous for designing AMD's successful K7 (Athlon) and K8 architectures. AMD's canceled K12 uArch was another of Keller's more famous designs, and he has also worked for Apple in the past.

Keller is taking on the official title of an Intel senior vice president, where he will lead silicon engineering. Dr. Murthy Renduchintala, who Intel CEO Brian Krzanich brought in from Qualcomm to revitalize the company's engineering division, provided a quote for Intel's official press release announcing Keller's hire.

We noticed that Murthy has a new title. Murthy, who was previously the group president of the Client and Internet of Things (IoT) Businesses and Systems Architecture Group (CISA) and chief engineering officer, is now listed with the title of Intel's chief engineering officer and group president of the Technology, Systems Architecture & Client Group (TSCG).

This is an interesting development: Murthy's new title portends changes to Intel's CISA group. We followed up with Intel, and the company confirmed that is has combined its Technology and Manufacturing Group (TMG) into the newly-named group, which is a shift in the current alignment.

Murthy’s group has recently been renamed the Technology, Systems Architecture & Client Group (TSCG) to reflect nature of what is now encompassed within his organization. Recently Intel Labs and the Technology & Manufacturing Group (TMG) were merged into Murthy’s group, with the collective remit spanning Intel Labs, TMG, Systems Architecture, as well as the Client and Connectivity businesses. 

This realignment has been rumored for several months, but now it's official. We'll certainly learn more on this topic during Intel's earnings call later today.

Keller's hire is quite fitting given Intel's current switch to MCM (Multi-Chip Module) based designs. In fact, Murthy's statement clearly indicates that Keller will lead Intel's heterogeneous design initiatives:

"Jim is one of the most respected microarchitecture design visionaries in the industry, and the latest example of top technical talent to join Intel," said Dr. Murthy Renduchintala, Intel's chief engineering officer and group president of the Technology, Systems Architecture & Client Group (TSCG). "We have embarked on exciting initiatives to fundamentally change the way we build the silicon as we enter the world of heterogeneous process and architectures. Jim joining us will help accelerate this transformation."

Transitioning to a heterogeneous design, which combines several separate components onto a single package, solves several problems for Intel. Heterogeneous designs allow the company to peel off certain types of components, such as analog devices, that don't scale well to smaller lithographies. That will help as lithography shrinks become more difficult. In that vein, Intel has invested heavily in its EMIB (Embedded Multi-Die Bridge) technology to tie together disparate compute resources. Head to our Hot Chips 2017: Intel Deep Dives Into EMIB article for all the deep-dive details.

This approach plays perfectly to Keller's experience with heterogeneous designs, as it is a key tenet of the AMD's Zen architecture. Jim Keller will lead the company's silicon engineering, but it isn't clear if he replaces another Intel executive, such as current TMG head Dr. Ann Kelleher.

Ex-AMD alums Keller and Koduri have both now landed at Intel, and Chris Hook is also rumored to be joining the company, though that hasn't been confirmed.

Overall, Intel is obviously scooping up some of the industry's top semiconductor engineers. The new talent will drive the company's broader design decisions over the years to come, so we won't see the direct result of new architectures for several years. However, we can expect that they will be instrumental in addressing some of the company's more urgent issues right now, such as the delayed 10nm process.

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  • justin.m.beauvais
    Wow, Intel is gearing up for innovation. I wonder what prompted that. Oh man, I have a feeling like in the next 3 years CPU capability is going to explode. With Intel FINALLY back on the war path, and AMD gaining momentum, we are going to see some great CPUs, hopefully.
  • stdragon
    Nah. The future is ambient computing; which is a fancy way for saying a bunch of embedded computers and IoT all communicating together to provide a seamless transition of the user experience. To reach that goal, Intel is going to need a lot of low powered CPUs - and ARM is nipping at its heals.
  • bit_user
    I just find myself a bit skeptical that this guy is such a unique and peerless talent. He certainly didn't design Zen by himself - he must've had many capable designers working under him. Is it not unreasonable to expect some in their number can step up, equal, and maybe surpass their former boss?

    Anyway, it seems K12 was their custom ARM core:

    Maybe he quit in frustration, after it was shelved. Given limited engineering resources, it was probably the right call to put it on hold. There was already a big market ready & waiting for Zen cores, but the ARM server market is still quite nascent and ARM desktops are almost nonexistent. The next XBox and Playstation would also probably prefer x86-64, as it would enable binary compatibility with current-gen titles.