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AMD Channel Exec Talks ATI, Motherboards And Digital Home

Advanced Micro Devices channel executive Pat Moorhead sheds light on AMD's acquisition of ATI Technologies and how it impacts the AMD corporate stable image program, mobile and digital home strategies.

Advanced Micro Devices has been working since late last year to penetrate more deeply into the corporate market via VARs and system builders. In the wake of AMD's acquisition of ATI Technologies this week, Pat Moorhead, vice president of global channel marketing at AMD, believes the Sunnyvale, Calif., chip maker has an even more compelling story for its Commercial Stable Image Platform (CSIP) plus more opportunities in mobile, digital home and consumer electronics platforms. He spoke with CRN Hardware Editor Kristen Kenedy about the opportunities to come for AMD and the channel.

CRN: I think the question many people in the channel will want to know is if AMD will make its own motherboards as a result of the ATI acquisition.

MOORHEAD: I can definitively say no. It really doesn't add anything more to the equation over and above the two companies coming together. I like to use the statement [AMD Chairman and CEO] Hector [Ruiz] used on the [July 24 acquisition] conference call, which is, 'We were friends before, and now we are family.'

You can imagine now the combined development force and the design, validation, firmware and software teams. It just makes that stable image platform even better.

The second part relates to [Microsoft Windows] Vista. Over the next couple of years, it will obviously become the client OS of choice. We think that the computing technology with Microsoft's 64-bit platform, combined with ATI technology, which really optimizes for the new [Vista] Aero Glass user interface, will become extremely important.

CRN: Why is that so important?

MOORHEAD: [ATI's] technology provides all the performance in that environment, and there is nobody who questions it. ... ATI meets the spec and exceeds it, in fact.

CRN: What might ATI's channel partner program look like moving forward?

MOORHEAD: Due to regulatory rules, we are not allowed to get too close with them until the fourth quarter [when the acquisition is expected to close]. But we have made the decision to put ATI and AMD sales and marketing under Henri Richard [AMD's executive vice president of sales and marketing]. There are some really good things that ATI does that we are going to leverage. I think the channel believes that ATI's online support is good, and we will leverage that piece. I think that people like AMD's very flexible channel programs, and we will leverage those into one program moving forward. We have a lot of the same customers, and we want to provide them with a more seamless experience to deal with the combined companies.

NEXT: AMD's view on ATI chipsets and the CSIP program

CRN: If you're not going to be making motherboards, could you explain how you think owning the chipset will further AMD's stable image program?

MOORHEAD: There are a lot of steps in creating a stable image platform. But the primary piece is making sure that the drivers are consistent and they don't change. Technically, that is between the CPU, the chipset, the south bridge, or any audio or video processing that goes on.

So you can imagine now, with the combined forces of the companies, we will have super-tight team integration with the design, the validation, the development of the firmware and the development of the software that goes along with that. Really, when it comes to customers who are looking for the power of the integration in that market, who value that integration, we can provide them with literally a seamless driver for all of that.

If you remember from our CISP program, we bring every one of those registered motherboards from our labs and run them through the exhaustive validation testing and put our stamp of approval on them. What this does with the combined forces is makes it easier and a lot of faster to do that.

CRN: AMD also has a tight relationship with Nvidia. Executives mentioned on AMD's conference call [about the ATI deal] that they are committed to continuing to work with Nvidia. But what about Nvidia's Business Platform [Nvidia's stable image program based on Nvidia chipsets and AMD CPUs]? Will that program continue?

MOORHEAD: Absolutely. Nvidia is a great company. They have been a good partner. We believe this brings economic opportunity for them, and we expect that they will continue to develop chipsets for AMD CPUs to further enhance their graphics penetration.

I'm sure you get sick of us harping on this, but it is our heritage and our history--and we've demonstrated it--to be a partner-based company as opposed to a go-at-it-alone company.

Two things in particular. We handed the HyperTransport spec that we developed, spending hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D, to the industry with this new platform called Torrenza. We are inviting competitors and new companies to come in and develop coprocessors for this new environment.

CRN: On the mobile side, why do you think being able to make a chipset for mobile PCs is important?

MOORHEAD: Mobile PCs are more integrated than desktops. When you look at our ability to go from being 'friends' to actually 'family' and more tightly integrate the design, validation, firmware and software tools, it leads to a much better stable image platform. That's what this is all about.

One point I will make, too, is that ATI is actually a leader in discrete notebook GPUs, with 70 percent market share. We think that speaks volumes.

CRN: On the notebook, if you want to have Vista-ready, do you have to have discrete or can you take integrated?

MOORHEAD: I think we always recommend discrete because you don't want to take any chances with Vista. The [integrated] solutions that ATI has brought to the table are Vista-capable or Vista-compatible. And when you look at the feature set side by side to what Intel has and also the availability, they are much better.

I would always recommend, unless you are just doing e-mail and maybe a little bit of Web surfing, to go discrete.

This may sound a little like an oxymoron, but it sucks less power when you have a higher-end, better graphics solution because of the RAM. Let's say you have a 1-Gbyte, with the [integrated] solution. It will be constantly accessing real memory, and memory sucks a lot of juice as opposed to a discrete solution. With the discrete solution, you have not 1 Gbyte or 2 Gbytes of memory you are accessing, but a much lower amount of discrete memory.

CRN: I know AMD mentioned that, over time, graphics may actually move into the processor. I would think for notebooks that would be great.

MOORHEAD: Yes, for certain applications, absolutely. Right now, it's not the right thing because if you look at the high end of those technologies, it's not optimal when you combine. But if you look at mainstream or value CPUs and GPUs, it makes a ton of sense because the sophistication of the two is relatively similar.

CRN: The big sales of notebooks right now are in the value segment though, right?

MOORHEAD: They are, but I think users deserve better. I think we can deliver that.

NEXT: How ATI plays into AMD's vision for the digital home market

CRN: AMD outlined other opportunities available because of the ATI acquisition. What is AMD's vision in the digital home market?

MOORHEAD: I have to answer that in two stages: the shorter term and the longer term. On the shorter term, by that I mean 2007, we are going to be developing a best-in-class Windows Media Center platform experience by combining forces of the CPU, the graphics and the awesome video capability that ATI brings to the table.

While we are not prepared to give the explicit details, because this [acquisition] deal doesn't close until the fourth quarter, it will be a combo of both of our technology and taking the awesome graphics GPU technology that ATI brings to the platform.

More toward the future, what you are looking at are two different types of approaches, and we are going to support them both. There is the PC-centric view, and there is the device-centric view. This is the beauty of this acquisition as well.

The PC-centric view is pretty straightforward. Depending on which type of software is most important, you can provide an appropriate solution. So if you are talking about media-centric, video is king. Then you have to have an appropriate CPU and graphics to go along with that. If you are in a graphics-centric environment, graphics is obviously king, where you can get into two, four or eight cores of graphics processing with an appropriate CPU, video and chipset.

Those two approaches combine with the consumer electronics technologies in which ATI is a player today. ATI today is a player in three distinct technology segments. The first one is digital TV. These guys are No. 1 in high-definition digital TV integrated circuits in a growing market. In most media handsets, the customer set is a who's who: Nokia, LG Electronics, Motorola, Qualcomm. In game consoles, Microsoft XBox and Nintendo.

Moving forward in the future, I would expect two views of solutions: one that is PC-centric, and one that is device-centric. Really, when you think about it, it doesn't matter which one wins. They are both going to win.

CRN: Could AMD processors go into a digital TV in the future?

MOORHEAD: The short answer is yes. In fact, there are dumb processors already inside digital TVs. They are just not able to handle large data sets at this time. We do expect in the coming years those processors inside will become more robust, and we will be prepared to take advantage of that.

Today, a digital TV is primarily focused on the decode on the video. What you are seeing more now are TV capabilities coming into PCs and consumer electronics devices. You are seeing more data-intensive applications appearing as well. We're prepared to address the market wherever it goes.

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