AMD and ATI: New Kinds of Products to Follow Merger
AMD’s announcement this morning that it was acquiring graphics maker ATI has the potential for bringing some big changes to the PC market and the consumer electronics market by combing general purpose microprocessors and graphics processors in new ways.
AMD said this morning that, after the deal closes (expected in the fourth quarter pending shareholder approval), the graphics maker will become “the ATI business division” within AMD, with ATI’s CEO, Dave Orton, becoming an executive vice president reporting to AMD president and chief operating officer Dirk Meyer and AMD's chief executive, Hector Ruiz.
In a conference call with analysts this morning, Ruiz repeatedly talked about how the deal with offer “growth, innovation, and choice” and said the combination will allow the company to “deliver new customer-centric platforms.”
And indeed, there do seem to be plenty of opportunities there. AMD has become a real competitor to Intel in the consumer and server markets, but has continued to lag in the notebook and commercial segments. AMD obviously hopes this deal will help change it.
AMD says it plans to continue to develop “best-of-breed” discrete products, but it also says that by 2008, it plans to be producing produce that integrate microprocessors and graphics processors to serve “the growing need for general-purpose, media-centric, data-centric and graphic-centric performance.”
Areas for Working Together
I talked with Meyer this morning, and he elaborated on how he saw the two companies working together to make their individual products better, to make those products work together more optimally on a platform; and then to take the basic processing features each group has in its toolkit, and use them to create something new.
As an example, he cited ATI’s Computex demo, which showed how it physics engine performed calculations for graphics much faster than a general-purpose microprocessor. He said the combined company wouldn’t have to worry about which was doing the processing, just whatever worked best for the customer.
In particular, he cited gaming, high-performance technical computing, media centric PCs, and consumer electronics (mainly digital TVs) as areas where he thought the combined techniques could produce unique products.
He said he expected the graphics processor (GPU) would remain separate in some markets, notably those that require the fastest 3D rendering, such as high end gaming, “for as long as I can see.” But he said in other markets, where you want the lowest cost or the lowest power, it could become a single chip. In particular, he said he could see the combined company creating a platform for the needs of emerging markets through a better job of integrated graphics, consistent with AMD’s 50x15 vision.
Overall, he said, it gives the combined company two ways to accelerate its growth – by using ATI’s relationships in the CE business, notably in digital TVs and in handhelds; and by creating new products, such as PCs that offer better and more media-rich experiences; and CE devices that are better integrated into the digital home
And Then There Was One (standalone GPU maker)
I asked Meyer whether the merger would result in less competition, since a lot of machines now use ATI graphics with Intel processors; or nVidia graphics with Intel processors. He dismissed the concern, saying it doesn’t expect AMD’s relationship with nVidia will change enormously, even though the two will now compete in the GPU business.
He said in the discrete graphics market, primarily the high-end, everything stays at it was and ATI will continue to compete with nVidia. Because everything is attached to public and open interfaces, such as PCI Express, nothing will change.
nVidia will still be able to build chipsets for the AMD platform, Meyer said, and said he expects they will continue to do that. He said that unlike Intel, AMD would continue to share technical information with nVidia, and would not do a “Centrino”-like marketing approach designed to shut out other silicon vendors.
“We're not going to do that,” Meyer said, saying the strength of AMD’s apprpoach has been that its customers have access to best of breed components. Meyer said he thought the combination would create a competitive environment: “We think this combination gives customers what they want -- a bigger stronger more viable competitor to Intel across a range of markets.”
One area he does expect will change is the relatively small business ATI has had supplying chipsets to OEMs for motherboards with Intel procesors. While he said the combined company “will continue to honor and support as long as customers want to buy them,” realistically he says, customers aren't going to want Intel chipsets from AMD, so the focus will move more toward AMD-based designs.
Overall, he said “We don't view this as AMD buying a GPU business; nor is it buying a chipset business so we can look like Intel,” Meyer said. Instead, he said the goal was to “create products we can do as a joint company that we couldn't do as two separate companies.”