Raja Koduri's departure from AMD was one of the most surprising stories of 2017, but largely because he left AMD for rival Intel. Now AMD has appointed two new graphics industry veterans to run the Radeon Technologies Group (RTG).
Earlier this year, Intel and AMD announced that AMD's Radeon Graphics were worming their way into Intel's eighth-generation H-Series processors. A day later, Raja Koduri, AMD's former senior vice president and chief architect of the RTG, announced he had left the company. Twenty-four hours after that, Intel announced that it had brought on Koduri to head its newly formed Core and Visual Computing Group business unit with the intention of developing high-end discrete graphics cards for a "broad range of computing segments."
AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su took the RTG helm after Koduri's departure, but the company announced that it was actively seeking to fill Koduri's role. Now AMD has selected two industry veterans to lead RTG. AMD has also folded its semi-custom business unit into RTG because of its heavy reliance upon graphics IP. AMD representatives told us that the RTG restructuring means the new executives are not a one-to-one replacement for Koduri. Mike Rayfield is now the senior vice president and general manager, and David Wang is now the senior vice president of engineering. The two executives will report directly to Su, who will no longer handle the day-to-day business of RTG.
“Mike and David are industry leaders who bring proven track records of delivering profitable business growth and leadership product roadmaps,” said Su. “We enter 2018 with incredible momentum for our graphics business based on the full set of GPU products we introduced last year for the consumer, professional, and machine learning markets. Under Mike and David’s leadership, I am confident we will continue to grow the footprint of Radeon across the gaming, immersive, and GPU compute markets.”
Rayfield has 30 years of experience in the industry with extended tenure at Micron as the senior vice president and general manager of the Mobile Business Unit and as general manager of the Mobile Business Unit at Nvidia. Rayfield was in charge of the team that developed Nvidia's Tegra.
Rayfield will be responsible for strategy and business management for consumer and professional graphics. He will also serve in the same role for the semi-custom business.
David Wang most recently hails from Synaptics, where he was senior vice president of Systems Silicon Engineering. Wang also previously served as corporate vice president at AMD, where he was responsible for SoC development for AMD's processors, including GPUs, CPUs, and APUs. Wang has a rich history with AMD, beginning with ArtX and ATI, where he helped develop several game consoles along with every generation of GPU from the R3000 series to the HD 7000. Wang has a storied 25-year career in the industry that also includes time at SGI, Axil Workstations, and LSI Logic.
The Challenge Ahead
Due to the mining boom, AMD's Vega GPUs are selling as fast as the company can manufacture them. However, many in the enthusiast community were underwhelmed by AMD's latest graphics cards, and Nvidia still holds the performance crown. Nvidia's performance lead is a prime contributor to its much larger market share, so AMD will need a more competitive graphics architecture to expand beyond its current 30% share.
Nvidia also has a dominant lead in the data center with its Tesla Volta GV100 GPUs. The explosion of ML/AI in the data center is a catalyst for massive expansion, so this segment represents the biggest predictable growth and margin opportunity for both Nvidia and AMD. The most important revenue battles will undoubtedly be won and lost in the data centers.
Nvidia may be the big fish in both client and data center graphics, but Intel has also recently begun to develop its own discrete graphics cards. That poses yet another threat to AMD's market share. Intel will likely target the low-to-mid range of the desktop graphics market first, which poses more of a threat to AMD than Nvidia. The blue team will also undoubtedly try to press the advantage of its overwhelming presence in the data center to sell its graphics products. That adds yet another player with deep pockets that AMD has to contend with.
Finally, AMD recently unveiled its GPU roadmap at its pre-CES event. The roadmap transitions from the 14nm Vega directly to the 7nm Vega architecture, which is a big surprise. AMD had expressed its intentions to shift both its CPUs and GPUs to the 12nm process in 2018, which AMD CTO Mark Papermaster confirmed to us directly. The lack of a 12nm GPU in AMD's roadmap undoubtedly raises questions.
All of these factors mean that RTG needs experienced leadership that can grapple with Nvidia and the looming threat of Intel while steering development of Navi and the next-generation graphics architecture.
AMD also moved the semi-custom business into RTG, which means it removed the unit from the Enterprise, Embedded and Semi-Custom group. AMD's Semi-Custom unit isn't know for high margins, but it is thriving, as evidenced by Intel as a new customer and the long-time Sony and Microsoft game console business. The move also expands upon AMD's "Radeon Everywhere" initiative as it pushes further into the embedded graphics space.
AMD representatives also told us the Semi-Custom group has other new unannounced customers and projects, but it did not elaborate further. We debunked the initial rumors that Tesla was working directly with Global Foundries for AI chips, but that is actually good news for AMD. We suspect that Tesla is one of AMD's unannounced Semi-Custom customers, as Elon Musk recently commented at an industry party that the company is working with AMD to develop its own custom AI processors. It also helps that Jim Keller, formerly the chief architect for AMD's microprocessors, is now VP of autopilot hardware at Tesla.
It's tempting to say that it takes two industry veterans to fill Koduri's shoes, but now RTG has more responsibilities because it absorbed the Semi-Custom group. AMD representatives are quite emphatic that this move represents an increase in investment in the RTG unit and that two leaders will help boost its efforts. That's welcome news as the company has already made amazing inroads with its Ryzen processors and has strong momentum in the data center. Adding a more competitive RTG to the mix would obviously help further its other initiatives, such as the budding Radeon Instinct lineup.
We're sure to learn more details of the restructuring in AMD's financial report later this month.