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Ex-Intel and AMD Chip Guru Jim Keller Joins AI Startup Tenstorrent

Jim Keller and Raja Koduri
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Jim Keller, a famed chip architect with notable stints at Intel, AMD, and Tesla, has joined AI chip startup Tenstorrent as President, CTO, and board member. Keller previously worked with Tenstorrent founder Ljubisa Bajic at AMD and personally provided the first funding for the startup.     

Keller is known as a leader of transformational efforts during his storied past at several leading semiconductor firms, with his most recent position at Intel following the same trajectory. Keller joined Intel in 2018 and, in tandem with Raja Koduri and Murthy Renduchintala, was responsible for designing a new six pillar strategy meant to help the company recover from an extended period of roadmap delays

In a move seen by many as a sign that Intel's efforts to get back on track had stalled, Keller left Intel for personal reasons in June 2020 with plans to serve a six-month stint as a consultant to help the company transition to a new leadership team. Shortly thereafter, Intel announced that its 7nm process was delayed to such an extent that, for the first time, the company might have to turn to outside foundries to help produce its core logic devices. Keller's former boss, Murthy Renduchintala, was ousted a few days later.  

With Keller's six-month consulting agreement with Intel now apparently over, he has now joined the Tenstorrent team. The AI chip startup, based in Toronto, Canada, is designing new Grayskull inference processors for image recognition and voice processing tasks. Tenstorrent's approach melds high-performance inference processors with a new approach that uses AI to optimize low-level software functions, thus unlocking higher levels of speed and efficiency in an approach known as Software 2.0. 

“Software 2.0 is the largest opportunity for computing innovation in a long time. Victory requires a comprehensive re-thinking of compute and low level software,” Keller said. “Tenstorrent has made impressive progress, and with the most promising architecture out there, we are poised to become a next gen computing giant.”

Keller had previous jobs at Tesla, where he served as the Vice President of Autopilot and Low Voltage Hardware, helped architect the Zen microarchitecture while he was AMD's corporate vice president and chief cores architect, and 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 projects, and he has also worked for Apple, helping develop the A4 and A5 processors.

Keller is known for relatively short tenures at companies, typically leading turnaround efforts for roughly three years before moving on to other challenges. His time at Intel, where he served as Intel's senior vice president in the Technology, Systems Architecture and Client Group and general manager of the Silicon Engineering Group, was notably shorter at roughly two years. 

  • ubicray
    The guy has got golden hands, wish there was a way to invest in Tenstorrent right now
    Reply
  • dalek1234
    I was just thinking the same thing. We'll need to wait for an IPO, I suppose.
    Reply
  • jkflipflop98
    I think this guy has way more name recognition than he deserves.

    In the high-performance semiconductor world it takes between 6 to 10 years to go from a drawing on a napkin to something you can actually sell. It's a lot longer than most people realize.

    Jim hasn't held a job in his entire career for more than 4 years. He's basically coming into a company in the middle of the development pipeline, tweaking a few things, then taking credit for the project after release and then jumping ship to the next company.
    Reply
  • greatmaharg
    Regardless of how impressive Tenstorrent's work is, my first impression reading this article was "Wow, this is the most buzzwordy company I've ever heard of"
    Reply
  • dalauder
    ubicray said:
    The guy has got golden hands, wish there was a way to invest in Tenstorrent right now
    There might be...
    Reply
  • ubicray
    jkflipflop98 said:
    I think this guy has way more name recognition than he deserves.

    In the high-performance semiconductor world it takes between 6 to 10 years to go from a drawing on a napkin to something you can actually sell. It's a lot longer than most people realize.

    Jim hasn't held a job in his entire career for more than 4 years. He's basically coming into a company in the middle of the development pipeline, tweaking a few things, then taking credit for the project after release and then jumping ship to the next company.

    I don't think people hiring him at Intel, AMD etc. all are so stupid to allow this to happen if he was useless
    Reply
  • jkflipflop98
    ubicray said:
    I don't think people hiring him at Intel, AMD etc. all are so stupid to allow this to happen if he was useless

    Actually, you would be surprised. I've had new engineers come in the door with Master's in computer science that couldn't explain to me the definition of "quad-core processor".
    Reply
  • dalauder
    jkflipflop98 said:
    Actually, you would be surprised. I've had new engineers come in the door with Master's in computer science that couldn't explain to me the definition of "quad-core processor".
    I don't think he's saying that every CS major is useful. I think he's saying that all these companies are hiring Jim Keller based off of performance, not off of baseless self-promotion. If he were that big on self-promotion, he'd have gotten stock options in the past and be richer by now.

    Jim Keller is useful because he isn't an academic "knowledgeable" guy. He's a creative problem solver, like the on-the-job self-taught engineers of old (My grandfather was one of the last Los Angles City engineers who didn't hold a degree in engineering...but this was in the 1930s.)

    That said, I do have some suspicious that this company is him cashing in on his name in exchange for raising them capital.
    Reply
  • manshooter
    Perhaps I misread the article, but didn't they say that he put up the capitol to open this new company? I believe he did.
    His last three jobs at least we're with big well known companies, why would he take a step down to be in a new unproven startup, if all he does is grab credit and move on to other bigger companies?
    I DO see this man as a plumber of sorts. He tends to step into a company when it's having problems, plumb the system, get out the clogs until it's running smoothly again. THEN move on when he gets bored.
    He seems to have a real stake in this company, his money AND his reputation at risk, that alone makes it an attractive investment to me. I am going to keep my eye on it as it goes along, for a way to get a piece of it.
    Reply