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Exclusive Interview with AMD’s Roy Taylor

We were given the opportunity to interview Roy Taylor, Corporate Vice President Global Channel Sales for AMD. Roy is a busy man, but he still found time to sit down and chat with Kitguru.

First, a little background history – before Roy joined AMD on January 2nd this year, he had been working with Nvidia since the late 90’s. Roy may be in a very high profile position, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots, the simple pleasures in life and his passion for gaming. Yes, even top executives like to play games on their computer, its not just for teenage geeks.

Before we got down to the business side of the interview we first chatted about life, food and the early days of technology. Roy also tells a scary story about his webcam being hacked at home. Yes, we kid you not.

Roy Taylor: Corporate Vice President Global Channel Sales for AMD.
Roy Taylor: Corporate Vice President Global Channel Sales for AMD.

My first computer was the Commodore 64 … Roy’s first computer was actually the Amstrad 286 lug book. He laughed about the weight and said it was certainly not that easy to ‘lug’ about. Roy likes to cook, and if he has to impress some important guests then a couple of Salmon Wellington’s would be top of the list, why? Well ‘the pastry takes ages, but it looks spectacular when it comes out of the oven’. He would rather eat his favourite Singapore Noodles at a restaurant however. We all need our comfort food.

When I asked him what invention he would like to be responsible for, he issued a counterpart to his previous food related comments “The DNA string for staying slim. In the future, no one will be fat, ever. Sadly I won’t be here for it!”. The middle age spread hits us all, sadly.

You can genuinely feel the excitement when you chat with Roy about his favourite games. We talked about gaming in the early days and he said “I started working with Nvidia immediately after playing Doom with the Open GL patch and a Voodoo card. I have been hooked on games and the PC business ever since.” Headshots certainly are a good way to unwind, we can’t disagree.

I asked Roy about the recent announcements from companies (such as Microsoft) detailing phone calls across the globe. We can have our voices translated into any language we choose, in real time. It certainly shows the power of the web when it comes to augmenting traditional ways of working/playing. I asked him about AMD’s take on how the cloud can create a revolution in online gaming?

He said “The truth is that none of us really yet knows the answer to this.  The idea that we can have pre-rendered, GOD (Gaming On Demand) available gaming via the cloud is deeply appealing and we believe that Radeon Sky is going to be an exciting development here.  Where the computation will take place is going to ebb and flow depending on the granularity of the experience. More simply put, if the game and the experience is set then we (the industry) can deliver it via the sky.  But if the pace of graphical innovation escapes the sky, then the computation will stay local.”

I asked Roy about R&D funding for advanced projects. nVidia’s cash cow for future graphics seems to come from Quadro. Can AMD create a genuine challenge in the workstation arena and, if that’s not possible, how else can ‘king of the mountain’ graphics development be funded 5 years down the road?

Roy said “There are really two questions being asked here.  The first is; can we compete in professional graphics. The second is, does a company need a professional graphics business to fund/lead its consumer graphics. OK let’s take the first.  That’s a yes.  Our current Fire Pro products, as measured by many current benchmarks, are considerably better than our competitors in real world professional apps.  Not only can we compete but we are faster at less power, than our competition. We have had three record revenue quarters in a row for our Professional Graphics – I believe they are the best products available.  It’s time the world knew.”

He added “Now the second question which is do we need powerful workstation GPUs to develop a roadmap? We believe that large, parallel processor GPUs for mission critical and large scale computation have proven their validity and value.  But what makes a really good device for finding shale gas in Brittany isn’t always a good product for running Battlefield 4.  We do believe in powerful GPU architectures, both for their own sake and as part of our APU and HSA plans. So yes, developments in workstation do lead to better GPU roadmaps but they are not always the same devices. This is an area we continue to focus on and expect to have more to say in the future.”

KitGuru recently carried a story about Intel extending beyond DX. They were quite realistic in saying that it will be a few more years before their APU catches up with the one AMD will be offering in consoles. To get around the lack of sheer horsepower, they seem focused on finding game developer problems that have not been solved yet – then creating an Intel-friendly solution. In this case it is for Order Independent Transparency, which they reckon is an 80% overhead on traditional systems and 10-15% for them. It’s easy to imagine a situation in the near future where an enormous Intel spend will back up a game that relies heavily on these techniques – drastically reducing the gap between Intel and AMD/nVidia.  Question: In your opinion, are these ‘solutions’ genuine – solving a real issue which faces developers all the time – or are they ‘fixes looking for a problem’?

Roy took a moment and said “It’s interesting that “Sandybridge” committed 17% of its die size to GPU, Ivybridge 27% and we estimate that Haswell commits in excess of 30% in an apparent attempt to make their APUs more balanced (see slide below.) Building efficient graphics processors is a difficult and complex task involving a large variety of skillsets. AMD has market-leading experience and expertise in this area allowing us to repeatedly deliver power-friendly and high-performance discrete Graphics Processing Units (GPU) and Accelerated Processing Units (APU) for both the PC and console markets.”

Roy continued “Now your question is do these APUs solve real issues.  The answer is yes.  There is a need for a new kind of processor which is able to both support serial and parallel processing.  The success of Open CL, html 5 and Open Compute proves this.  This is why the APU has been invented.”

I asked Roy about Intel extending DX. Is there anything he could share about AMD’s plans to move beyond DX?

Roy had a quick reply to this one. He said “DirectX has been great for the industry, providing a natural refresh to the market. But there is now an imperative to look for new ways to refresh our industry.  Fortunately, the gaming industry retains an enormous pool of graphical and design talent.  As we showed with TressFX Hair and Tomb Raider there is a ton of room for new development. And we at AMD believe that genuine innovation should be shared and innovation in PC gaming should extend and expand the genre to the benefit of consumers. That is our plan here and we expect to maintain that focus in future.”

It might be a delicate subject to broach, but I wanted to ask about Nvidia’s ‘The Way Its Meant To Be Played’ (TWIMTBP). Roy was one of the key figures behind this when he worked with Nvidia. If we’re right, and AMD has a clean sweep of the next gen consoles, then that ‘early access’ would seem to negate the benefits nVidia might get from having the TWIMTBP programme in the future. Is that an accurate assessment?

Roy smiled and said “Whilst at nvidia I immensely enjoyed running and driving TWIMTBP.  But TWIMTBP no longer seems to be around.  At AMD we believe that PC gaming is vibrant, alive, fun and perfectly able to sit alongside console gaming.  To us PC gaming is the scalable upside of any console development and we are not only committed to it but enormously excited at its opportunities.  Proof of that is our commitment to ‘Never Settle’.

On the run into Xmas (pre-Taylor days), we were hearing from the UK channel that some major distis like Enta were carrying anything up to 80% nVidia stock. Given that consumers can only buy what resellers have in stock – and resellers show what the distis have available – that would automatically create a situation where Q4 2012 would skew toward GeForce. We’re now hearing that this has changed. By a large amount. Can you give us an overview of whether this is true, how much of a swing you’re seeing from nVidia to AMD and how you see the balance of power for channel sales going in the future?

Roy quickly said “It’s true that consumers want to buy from stock.  If a part is not available then consumers will buy what’s ‘on the shelf’.  Our success in the channel has given our partners and distributors confidence and now they are stocking and selling more Radeon products.  This has helped fuel a move of the market over to AMD.”

When KitGuru covered the Unreal University event last year, we spent time chatting with Mike Gamble. One of the things Mike touched on was the fact that in the immediate future (2011 to 2014 or so), graphics in the mobile phone market will be ‘The Wild West’ all over again. Specifically that there will be huge jumps in performance/standard features (much like the days from the Ti200/4600 to the Radeon 9700 etc…), but that – after a while – we would see the market settle down as ‘almost every phone can play games and do cool stuff’. Do you see AMD being a force in the mobile gaming space?  Either inside phones or tablets?

Roy was quick to jump into this one “I am going to admit to a personal bias.  As you know I am myself a gamer. At home I have 9 desktop PCs (I connect them to TV’s in each bedroom) and I have an MSI G60 gaming notebook, I have 4 smartphones (HTC One, Galaxy SII, SIII and Blackberry).  I also have an Asus Transformer and an Amazon Kindle HD.   I love them all and want to see AMD in every space.  Now when I look at where the most hours are spent gaming, over the long term (years) for myself and my game playing wife (she killed Diablo inside 10 days) and my 3 sons – it’s still the desktop PC.  Sure we can all take a dip into Angry Birds and other such games but none of them require a clock/timer to warn you that just played all night and ought to go to bed, do they?”

There was a splurge of action around AMD memory last year – and now there are more images online of everything from new modules through to SSDs with your brand on them.
How many products are we likely to see ‘AMD branded’ by the end of the year?

Roy said “A brand makes sense where it enhances the user experience.  Just ask Richard Branson.  If a business can enter a field, improve it, make it great, make it marvellous then it can extend itself.  I am a huge fan of what Western Digital is doing in this way.  They rock (to me) in understanding the value extension for home media streaming.  If we at AMD can extend the computational experience in a similar fashion then we owe it to our fans, employees and shareholders to do the same.”

Intel has been talking about the Computing Continuum for a while – and we now have ex-AMD folks like Patrick Moorhead discussing the Internet of Everything and the shocking pace of change.
Given we’re voluntarily moving to an Orwellian future with screens, tracking and cameras everywhere – how aware should people be about security?
If we’re not careful, are we inviting crooks into our homes by simply having too much technology ‘open’ around the house?
Can AMD do anything to combat security?

Roy’s demeanour changed, clearly this subject meant a lot to him. He said “Recently my wife walked into the study and found a guy on the end of her webcam.  He had managed to crack her webcam.  It was frightening for her and for me.  Fortunately we shut everything down and locked him out.  AMD has some outstanding technology and we are hiring and motivating some really wonderful people.  We want to do more than excite consumers, we want to give something back.  That includes security.  Watch this space too.”

With APU13 ready to kick off in San Jose this November, how significant is it than attendance for AMD’s event is increasing by almost 40% year on year?”

Roy added “It’s enormously significant.  Our introduction to the world of a new product category called APU is going to have a profound and long lasting effect on the entire IT industry.  Indeed it is the reason that I joined AMD.  Most people see the APU today as a CPU that has integrated graphics.  This is not entirely correct.  An APU is in fact the coming together of a serial processor (the CPU) and a parallel processor (the GPU). HSA is the technology that will be powering the next generation of APUs in second half of 2013, that will remove the bottlenecks between the CPU and GPU and unlock the GPU to mainstream programmers. This will enable them to write HSA-accelerated applications using standard programming languages. More programmers will result in more applications and more compelling end user experiences.”

Just before I left, I asked Roy what would the ‘perfect day’ be for him?

He said ” Well since this happened just two weeks ago its an easy one to answer. I was driving an Aston Martin Vantage In Hollywood, listening to ‘Angel on my Shoulder’ by Kaskade and was with Berrin, my wife.” Clearly a romantic at heart, with fantastic taste in high performance cars!

We said goodbye to Roy and wished him well in his position within AMD this year. Thanks Roy for taking the time to talk to us, and happy gaming!

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