FEATURE: How the chip maker executes next year on its ambitious road map will go a long way in determining its long-term technology and business prospects.
Lisa Su landed in New York City in May armed with her plans for the future of Advanced Micro Devices.
Four years into her time with AMD, Su was in her seventh month as president and CEO of a company known for its good technology but an uncertain future.
Over the previous several years, some poor business decisions combined with execution issues, a contracting global PC market, corporate restructuring and fierce competition from larger rival Intel conspired to leave AMD with dwindling market share in PCs and in data center systems, a difficult position in the graphics space against Nvidia and—except for a handful of times—losses in financial quarters.
But there were exceptions to this litany of troubles. The vendor's semi-custom silicon business got its processors into the latest generations of the top three gaming consoles from Microsoft (Xbox One), Sony (PlayStation 4) and Nintendo (Wii U), which helped fuel a brief return to profitability in 2013 and continues to bring in revenue for the company.
Furthermore, through an effort that began under previous CEO Rory Read, AMD continues to reduce its exposure to the volatile PC industry by growing the percentage of revenue its gets from other businesses, such as semi-custom chips and server products.
In addition, the company has attracted strong chip engineers who were spending their time in the lab developing technologies that will play key roles in AMD's future.
It was with this backdrop that Su and other executives were in New York City standing before a room of financial analysts and journalists outlining an ambitious road map
that includes new chip and memory architectures, new focus on such areas as the data center, high-end PCs and graphics, and a list of markets—including gaming and immersive computing—that the company has in its sights. AMD needed to put its efforts and money into areas that could best take advantage of the chip maker's expertise in high-performance CPUs and GPUs, energy efficiency and visualization.
"We don't need to do everything," Su said at the time. "We need to pick the things we can do very well."
Seven months later, as 2015 winds down and AMD prepares to enter a very important 2016, the CEO is confident in the direction the company is going. Whether that confidence can translate into market share gains, revenue growth and sustained profitability over the next couple of years remains to be seen, but Su said the strategy is the right one for the company.
"We are focusing on markets where I know we can win, where we know we have the technology to win," she told eWEEK
. "I feel good where we are with our product road map."
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, sees a vendor that is facing challenges but is capable of rebounding if everything falls right.
"Right now, they are a very troubled company with a bright future," Moorhead told eWEEK
. "Revenue, market share and profits are all down, and you've got to hit on at least one of those to drive success at a company. [But] I think they have a brighter future than where they are right now."
However, it won't be easy for AMD, according to Bob O'Donnell, principal analyst with TECHnalysis Research. The company has strong IP and some good products, but it also faces significant competition from the likes of Intel and Nvidia—not to mention ARM and OpenPower in the data center—along with a PC industry that may not see much of an upturn until later next year or early 2017.
"They know what they're up against," O'Donnell told eWEEK
. "They're not blind to it."
AMD has been aggressive in building on the plans that Su laid out, particularly in its graphics business.