After a forty-day sabbatical from the company, AMD Radeon Technologies Group SVP and Chief Architect Raja Koduri is leaving the company. Koduri returned to AMD four years ago to lead its graphics development and was placed in charge of the Radeon Technologies Group when it was formed two years ago with a stated goal of focusing on graphics and returning AMD to a leadership position.
Following the release of the Vega GPU architecture and surrounding products for gamers, professionals, and enterprise, there were questions about AMD’s execution on the product. While it brought AMD back into the fight with NVIDIA for the high end graphics market, it did not present as promising a picture as reviewers and consumers had hoped. Vega-based products struggled to find a performance segment that they could best the NVIDIA GeForce line. The high cost of production was a constant question mark with the implementation of a new memory technology called HBM2 (high bandwidth memory). And power efficiency, a key metric for graphics products used in enterprise for machine learning, lagged behind the most recent competing architectures.
The timing of Koduri’s sabbatical, and now his official departure from AMD, will leave many investors and followers of AMD pointing fingers, wondering “what’s next?”
AMD told me in a briefing following Koduri’s departure that it stands by its product roadmap for the graphics division. It is “committed and excited” about Navi and the future 2019 products it already has working through the development pipeline.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect to see shifts in the company’s graphics portfolio in the near term.
CEO Lisa Su has been leading the RTG since Koduri’s sabbatical began and she will continue to hold that position until a replacement for RTG leadership is found. I have talked with Su many times over the years and believe that she has the guts and capability to make what needs to happen, happen, with the Radeon and graphics division.
Based on conversations I have had in the last few days, I expect AMD to focus its resources on implementing the same kinds of efficiencies for the Radeon group that it did with the processor division. This year’s release of the Zen architecture found in consumer processors like Ryzen and enterprise parts like EPYC showed significant improvement over previous designs. AMD was able to jump back into the fight with Intel in several key markets over the course of 12 months. The Vega graphics chips were not as revolutionary.
The Zen team combined architectural advances, manufacturing efficiency, and sound business practices to come back into relevancy in a field that it had all but lost. Su and other top executives are hoping that by allowing the Radeon Technologies Group to “borrow” some engineering talent from the processor division, they can instigate the same kind of revolutionary jump for graphics. Key personnel are now being tasked with optimizing design, power, and strategy across both groups.
RTG is left with engineering and product design decisions only. The marketing and communications groups that were previously divided between AMD-proper and RTG have been folded back under a single umbrella. A big part of the success of Ryzen and EPYC processor families was properly setting expectations. By adopting a practice of “under promise and over deliver”, AMD was able to stay under the radar long enough for Intel to not have a runway to react until it was too late. That has never been the style for the Radeon Technologies Group, instead leaning towards an aggressive, outspoken mentality.
The graphics division of AMD is still comprised of thousands of engineers, product managers, and support staff. It represents arguably the largest portion of investment in R&D at AMD. With a dependency on the graphics IP for much of the company’s semi-custom product line, as well as the growing fields of AI, machine learning, gaming, and even the recent Intel announcement, there is no debate internally that AMD must course-correct and get Radeon back on track. The question will be how much and how fast of a shift will it make.