AMD Hires Apple Chip Exec Who Worked on iPhones, iPads

AMD, which lost a chip engineer to Apple last month, is looking to Jim Keller to work on chip core designs and push the company’s ambidextrous strategy.

Advanced Micro Devices, which saw one of its own chip designers to Apple earlier in July, now is bringing a former Apple processor expert into the fold.

AMD announced Aug. 1 that Jim Keller, who most recently was a director of the platform architecture group at Apple that concentrated on mobile processors for such devices as iPhones, iPads, iPods and Apple TVs, will join the company as corporate vice president and chief architect of AMD€™s processors.

In his role, the 53-year-old Keller will report to Mark Papermaster, AMD€™s CTO and senior vice president of technology and himself a former Apple executive. Keller is being asked to oversee microprocessor core design, focusing on both high-performance and low-power processor cores that will be the basis for future chips at AMD.

€œJim is one of the most widely respected and sought-after innovators in the industry and a very strong addition to our engineering team,€ Papermaster said in a statement. €œHe has contributed to processing innovations that have delivered tremendous compute advances for millions of people all over the world, and we expect that his innovative spirit, low-power design expertise, creativity and drive for success will help us shape our future and fuel our growth.€

Keller comes to AMD at a time of tremendous change. AMD has been losing ground to Intel in the x86 chip space and is looking to make some inroads into mobile devices, in particular tablets and new extra-thin and light notebooks dubbed by AMD officials as €œultrathins.€ Ultrathins are designed to compete with Ultrabooks championed by Intel, and while somewhat larger, are expected to be priced at least $100 less.

CEO Rory Read, who came from Lenovo last fall, is overseeing a transformation of a company that seems less interested in chasing Intel and concentrating more on how to navigate in an industry that is seeing stagnant PC sales, rapid growth in the smartphone and tablet markets and demand from enterprises for servers that are increasingly more powerful and more energy efficient.

€œThe thing they€™re facing is slowing growth in their main markets and strong competitors all around,€ Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, told eWEEK in July, after AMD officials announced decreases in both profits and revenues in the second quarter.

Read, who over the past few months has overhauled AMD€™s executive team, is pushing the company in new directions. For example, AMD is expanding its partnership with ARM, whose chip designs are found in more than 90 percent of all smartphones and most tablets. AMD officials announced in June that the company will integrate ARM€™s TrustZone security technology into future accelerated processing units (APUs), fueling speculation that AMD eventually may adopt ARM€™s architecture for some chips.

Some analysts have pointed to Nvidia€™s decision to combine ARM€™s chip designs with its own graphics technology to develop its Tegra product line.

AMD earlier this year also bought low-power server maker SeaMicro, giving the company a strong foothold in the growing microserver space and taking a partner away from Intel.

Keller will be involved in working within AMD€™s ambidextrous strategy, one in which officials have said they intend to be a solutions provider that is not tied to a single architecture.

This won€™t be his first work with AMD. Before working for Apple and P.A. Semi€”which Apple bought in 2008€”Keller worked for a number of other companies, including AMD. Among his projects at AMD was the effort to bring 64-bit computing to the x86 platform, which resulted in the Athlon 64 PC and Opteron 64 server processors. Those platforms gave AMD a significant boost in the early 2000s, when Intel was still talking about the need for a new architecture beyond x86 for 64-bit processing.

As Read has reworked AMD€™s management structure over the past few months, rivals€”including Apple€”have been raiding AMD€™s ranks. For example, ex-AMD executive Pat Patla moved to Samsung, which also hired several other former AMD employees. Qualcomm in May nabbed Eric Demers, AMD€™s former graphics CTO.

In July, Apple hired John Bruno, who had been a key chip engineer and system architect at AMD.