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Lisa Su, CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, is on a victory lap. At CES 2020, she said the company has gained market share on archrival Intel for the past eight quarters.
And Su said, “We’re just getting started.” In 2020, AMD is exploiting its advantages over Intel — a well-defined Zen 2 architecture and a cost-efficient 7-nanometer manufacturing process. The company will launch its new Ryzen 4000 mobile processors, and it will also release a monstrous 64-core AMD Threadripper processor soon.
In graphics, AMD is also challenging rival Nvidia with a new set of mainstream graphics chips. And Su promises that AMD will continue to move fast when it comes to designing the next-generation processor architecture, dubbed Zen 3.
I sat down with a group of reporters who interviewed Su after her press event on Monday. We all took turns asking questions.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Question: You didn’t spill any beans about the consoles today, the console chips.
Lisa Su: We’re excited about the console launches in 2020. Our partners will take the lead in terms of what they’ll see. But I think we’ve already heard that they’re using Zen 2, as well as our new RDNA graphics. We’re very excited about the consoles.
Question: Is it too early to start talking about desktop APUs? Is there a logical end of the line that they would be coming at?
Su: It’s a little bit early, yeah. When you look at our portfolio, we were very focused on desktop and server in 2019. We launched our first Navi-based chips with RDNA. Going into 2020, many of you have asked me, “Where is the Zen 2 notebook part?” We’re very excited about Renoir, the Ryzen 4000 series. You should expect a lot more from us in 2020. It’s only January. There’s a lot to go.
Question: Bringing that to desktop was relatively easy for AMD. Laptops, Intel has been circling the wagons for a while. What are some of the challenges there?
Su: We’ve always thought that this was going to be a very deliberate rollout of technology. Desktops and servers, we focused on the CPU and took advantage of the chiplet technology. That was the first incarnation. As you go into the notebook form factor, we have the integrated CPU plus GPU, as well as everything we’re doing around battery life. We think that the Ryzen 4000 series is going to be a very strong part for us.
If you take a look over the last eight quarters, we’ve gained share in the PC market every quarter. We believe that with the third generation of Ryzen mobile, we will take that to the next level in notebooks. We’re bullish on what we can do, and it’s not just what we can do. It’s what we can do with our OEMs. If you were to spend time with any of the OEMs, you can see that they’re doing a lot more design around the AMD ecosystem. You saw a couple of designs today with the Lenovo Slim 7, as well as the Asus and Dell machines. There will be a lot more machines coming out, and very nice form factors using the full power of the Ryzen 4000 series.
Question: Obviously when these chips were being designed — has the laptop market changed since those initial thoughts of planning to where we are today?
Su: I’d say that there has been more desire for — let’s call it more performance in the form factor. That’s where what we’re doing around gaming and content creation — slightly more TDP, a lot more horsepower. I think Fran said it very well. The idea of bringing desktop-class performance into the notebook form factor is one of the fastest-growing areas in the market. We didn’t spend a lot of time on commercial today, but we think commercial is also very important. The work we’ve done around security and manageability will be very important in the notebooks.
Question: Was it always the plan to be going toward the Vega, and not straight to Navi?
Su: It’s always about how we integrate the components at the right time. The Vega architecture is well-known, very well-optimized. It was always planned that this would be our integration of Zen 2 and Vega. You will see Navi in our APUs. That will be coming.
Question: Are you making headway in the commercial client business, where Intel is still strong?
Su: This is all about a journey. What we have seen — the PC market is a good market. If you look at how many PCs are sold, both desktops and notebooks, we’ve made a lot of progress in the market. There are a lot more products out with AMD inside, whether you look at large retailers as well as many of the commercial manufacturers. They’re starting to incorporate AMD. I’m very optimistic about what we can do.
Of course, with bringing our notebooks into 7nm, that will certainly help. We’ve made a lot of progress with the second generation of Ryzen mobile. The third generation of Ryzen mobile will certainly help.
Question: Do you think you have to compete with Intel on foldables and other upcoming form factors they’re pushing, with lower-power parts?
Su: What you’ll see is that we’ll continue to push the envelope on form factor. We’re working closely with Microsoft on some of the features and functions that are required to enable those types of form factors. You can see with some of the work we did with Surface, very sleek designs. You’ll see more of that going forward.
We know what we’re good at. We’re good at ensuring we have differentiated performance. That’s our focus. Working together with the OEMs, they’ll put those feature sets into differentiated designs. That’s important for us, to get to unique designs using AMD silicon.
Question: Intel gives a lot of MDF to its OEM partners to use their hardware while having nice designs. AMD is great from a marketing perspective, but how can you compete against everything that’s set up?
Su: This is about bringing great technology to market, but also having an ecosystem behind it. What we’ve learned is that success begets success. When we moved from the first generation of Ryzen mobile to the second generation of Ryzen mobile, you saw significantly more designs. We brought more than 50 designs last year. OEMs are starting to understand the capability of our technology. We’ve been very consistent with our road maps.
You can imagine — when we say there will be more than 100 notebooks in 2020, that’s a wider set of designs from the OEMs. Yes, there’s MDF involved, and there’s this whole retail marketing thing, but I actually think our brand is doing pretty well. We’ll continue to invest in the brand and in the ecosystem that will promote AMD.
Question: Have you seen some people study that and get measurements of how things like Threadripper are changing the face of your brand?
Su: We have seen it. It’s not as definitive as, “Because of Threadripper we have X amount of market presence.” But I think what you can say is that because of Ryzen — and that’s Ryzen across desktop and notebook, as well as Threadripper — there’s a lot more recognition of AMD. As you see more form factors, again, success begets success.
Our goal is a very strong road map. If you think about what we did in desktop, first generation Ryzen was good. Second generation Ryzen was much better. If you look at third generation Ryzen now, if you go out to the Amazon website today, you’ll see that 12 out of the top 12 desktop processors are AMD. That’s change. You’re going to see more of that on the notebook side as well. We’ve seen very good sales through our partners as we’ve gone through the holiday season, and that’s without the third generation Ryzen mobile, without the Ryzen 4000 series. We’re excited about what the Ryzen 4000 series will do in 2020.
Question: AMD has had leadership position in premium gaming desktops before in the past. But am I correct that this is the first time that AMD will probably have that position in premium laptops?
Su: This is a big foray into laptops, yes. We’re putting a lot of work behind it. We’ve had lead positions in the laptop form factor before. They’ve typically been at the lower end. What you’ll see is a broader range of technology. Frankly, it’s because the products are really good. We believe that the Ryzen 4000 series is the best notebook processor available today.
Question: You might have seen a kerfluffle yesterday about Intel showing Acer with one of their Core i9s and an RTX 2080 in a laptop device, saying that AMD doesn’t have any devices out with an RTX 2080 inside. Can you say if any of your partners are planning to pair with super high-end graphics like RTX 2080?
Su: I may not have caught that particular kerfluffle, as you said. I’m not going to pre-announce designs from OEMs. I would say that you should believe that we are on a clear mission, and the clear mission is to have AMD in more premium designs, both consumer and commercial. That’s going to be a focus not just in 2020, but 2020 and beyond.
Question: Do you think real-time raytracing is going to have as big an impact in graphics as Nvidia says?
Su: I think raytracing is important. We’ve said that raytracing is important. If you look at where it is, it’s still in the very early innings. We’re investing heavily in raytracing, investing heavily in the ecosystem around that. Both of our console partners have also said that they’re using raytracing, and you should expect that our discrete graphics as well, as we go through 2020, will also have raytracing. I do believe, though, it’s still very early. The ecosystem still needs to develop. We need more games, more software, more applications to take advantage of it. But we feel very good about our position.
Question: Do you think you have to have a competitor to high-end graphics? Is there going to be that high-end Navi part that people keep talking about?
Su: I know that those on Reddit want a high-end Navi. [Laughs] You should expect that we’ll have a high-end Navi. That’s something that’s important. The discrete graphics market, high-end gaming, is very important to us. You should expect that we will have a high-end Navi, although we don’t usually comment on unannounced products.
Question: There have been stories about TSMC lead times increasing. We recently had a quote from Mark about the ability to predict how many wafers you need in advance. Can you speak to how AMD will approach its partnership and its orders with TSMC through 2020?
Su: You heard me say that we now have 20 products in both production and development. We have bet big on 7nm at TSMC. We have a great relationship with them and they’ve supported us well, but wafers are tight. From our standpoint, it’s about ensuring that we get that prediction of what the demand will be early.
You’ll see, in our desktop product lines — when we first launched the third generation Ryzen, there were some areas where we stocked out at the high end, particularly on the 3900 and 3950X. You’ll see now that they’re readily available through retailers. It’s a just a matter of, when you’re early in the cycle, making sure that you call it correctly. That being the case, the technology is operating very well and we’re pleased with how 7nm has ramped for us.
Question: You’ve already spoken about how Zen 3 will be on 7-plus. Does that help the situation any more, given that some of your product will shift over to a process that’s slightly different?
Su: It’s fair to say that 7nm shares a lot of technology. Whether you’re talking about 7nm or 7-plus, they use a lot of the same technology. The main thing is just to make sure we forecast well and plan for success. Certainly that’s what we’re doing.
Question: Threadripper 64, is there a limit to how far you can push core count in a consumer part?
Su: For third generation Threadripper, I think 64 cores is the limit. When you go from 16 to 32 cores, the scale is actually quite good. For multithreaded applications you see the scaling is quite good. When you go up to 64 cores, there is a bit of overhead, and you don’t see quite the same scaling. We believe that will get better with optimization. People don’t realize what you can do with 64 cores. The work we’re doing right now with the ecosystem is to make sure they’re able to use all these cores. We love seeing new applications. We love working with some of the ISVs and trying to optimize that capability.
Question: AMD used to have an Arm program with Seattle and K12. Arm is approaching the high performance server space with a promise of 25% year on year performance increases, which is beyond AMD’s predictions of their own performance. Is there a time when AMD will work with Arm again?
Su: We do work with Arm in some of the microcontrollers, some of the controllers we have in our products. From a server standpoint, we are not investing in Arm at this point. We think there’s a huge market out there for x86. I think ARM has a market, and ARM has good capability, but we think that from our standpoint, the focus on x86 is the right thing to do. There’s a lot more we can do in the datacenter. That’s our plan, going from the second generation of Epyc and beyond.
Question: If you look at the whole industry, what do you think of RISC-V? Not as a particular AMD interest, but the development and appearance of RISC-V as a challenger.
Su: There will be those who will use RISC-V. They’ve seen some good momentum. Our focus is very clear. It’s all about high performance computing. For that, x86 is the leader.
Question: Getting back to the ton of money Intel has sunk into mobile technologies, working very deeply with a lot of vendors, is AMD also going to spend the amount of money Intel has to build that mobile ecosystem?
Su: The way to think about it is that the technology is the key. The performance of Ryzen mobile is significant. Now, will we work on the ecosystem on how to optimize panels and other parts? Yes, we will do all of those things. But I think the ecosystem is changing. This idea that someone is going to define what the next generation laptop is going to look like, I just don’t think that’s going to be the case.
You see what Microsoft is doing. You see what Dell and HP are doing. They have their own ideas about what the next generation form factor will look like. We’re going after the volume pieces of the market. From that standpoint, the fact that we’re able to move up the stack and introduce Ryzen 4000 series across ultrathins, the H series, as well as commercial, I think we have plenty of opportunity to grow. That’s certainly our intention.
Question: Do you think Intel has a shot at getting its act together on manufacturing, and that eventually becomes another threat to deal with?
Su: Let me say it this way, because you’ll have to ask them about their technology. We never build a road map expecting that someone else isn’t going to meet their road map. We built this road map now over the last five years, extending to the next five years, assuming that our competition is going to be extremely good. We’ve made some good choices, and this is all about making choices at the right time. Where do you bring technology to what market, and in what order? How do you do that? We need to continue to do that. That’s our key.
I’m expecting that we’re going to have very stiff competition, whether you’re talking about process technology or architecture or packaging technology. I’m also expecting that we’ll do quite well. That’s our job.
Question: Speaking about road maps, AMD’s lead products have been on a 12-month, 14-month cadence for the last three years. We’re expecting to see Zen 3 this year. In previous years you’ve given out four-year road maps, and you didn’t this year. You spoke about some of the Q1 and Q2 stuff. Can you comment on Zen 3 and what’s coming?
Su: You should expect that we’re going to be very aggressive with the CPU road map. We think Zen 2 is the best CPU core out there today. We’re very proud of it. We’ve completed — let’s call it the family. Zen 3 is doing very well. We’re very pleased with it. You’ll hear more about it in 2020. You will see Zen 3 in 2020, let me be clear.
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