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Craig Connell reveals the inside scoop on AMD

Craig Connell spent years driving sales for nVidia before moving across to the red team almost a decade ago. He knows both of the graphics companies intimately and, through the processor giant’s acquisition of ATI, he’s also an expert on AMD’s CPU business.He's just the right person to prod for information.

Originally destined for a career in football, Connell still runs several soccer teams near his home town of Milton keynes. That's what he does for fun.

Work? Well, right now, Connell is running things for AMD across Northern Europe. With AMD Fusion, the 6000 series and a load of CPU launches coming up, we wanted to know what life is like on the front line.

Connell says AMD offers a fast paced environment. Whoosh.

KitGuru likes to start with a little history, so we asked Connell about AMD’s share of the graphics market. Specifically, how have things changed over the past 12 months or so?

“I’m really pleased with the results so far”, Connell replied. “Independent research shows AMD holding strong at 51%. That’s something we haven't had for quite a while”. That’s true, this time last year nVidia was hovering around 59%. Using maffs, KitGuru calculates that AMD moving its discrete market share from 41% in 2009 to 51% for 2010 is an increase of more than 24%. Looking at Connell during the interview, KitGuru believes he must take some of the blame for this increase.

By the way, when nVidia or AMD says discrete, they are not refering to the hiding of an affair. Instead, they mean a graphics solution that is completely seperate from the CPU/Northbridge/Southbridge.

Connell told us that this uplift in graphics has helped elsewhere, “Over the past 12 months, as the recession really bit into the global market, AMD’s R&D has been winning market share in the graphics area like never before. That huge increase in demand for AMD graphics created a nice cascade effect into our CPU and chipset businesses. There’s still room for a lot more growth, but we’re happy with the progress made”.

Given that nVidia effectively created the GPU as we know it today and has carried on working hard to develop the market, it’s a tough competitor. We asked Connell what he felt was the single biggest factor in delivering the growth being reported by Mercury Research and others.

Experts on graphics. Both AMD and nVidia love to quote em.

“AMD's biggest advantage? It’s got to be DX11. Right now, we’re so far ahead with our deployment that I have to keep pinching myself”, said Connell. “Looking back, ATI landed the world’s first DX9 product ahead of schedule with the Radeon 9700 and that gave us a huge market swing. Then, with the launch of Vista at the end of 2006, nVidia came back strongly with the 8800 series.  Traditionally, there has always been an ebb and flow in this business. But this time, with DX11, it feels different. nVidia is only just bringing its DX11 parts into the mainstream and we’ve not heard anything about the mass market products”.

KitGuru can tell you that most graphic cards sold will cost the end user less than £100/$150/€120. Not having a DX11 solution in that space is painful. The other knock-on is the notebook market. Until Johan Alben and Philip Carmack are ready to unleash the 50w Fermi that KitGuru reported on back in May, AMD's offer to the mass market (especially Taiwan/China) remains very attractive.

Graphic companies compete with each other on what they call the product stack. It’s a moveable feast, with both sides able to change the stack by dropping prices or increasing performance.

For example, offer the GTX470 to the public at £300 in May and sales are limited. Drop the price 25% to to £225 today and it seems much more appealing. There are very few genuinely bad cards, just poorly selected price points. For AMD, the booby prize winner has been the Radeon HD 5830.

We asked Connell about the current line-up, “AMD has the only complete DX11 product stack. Starting with the Radeon HD 5970, which is the world’s fastest card, through to the highly affordable Radeon HD 5450 that retails in the UK at just over £30, we’ve got a great selection for customers at every price point”.

Connell is surprised that the competition for sales has not been stronger, “To be honest, I was expecting it to be a lot closer. nVidia has been a great competitor in the graphics space for many years and we expected a full set of Fermi products to be in the market by CeBIT in March. When they had not arrived by Computex in June, we thought it was very strange. Now there’s every chance that before nVidia deploys a full series of first generation products, AMD will already be selling second generation DX11 technology. It’s not often you get to be a whole series ahead in the graphics business. It’s like lapping a former champion in an F1 race – it feels strange, but you also feel a strong sense of pride”.

It's a past and present thing. Apparently.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about whether companies should sell just one kind of graphics processor.  Choosing either AMD or nVidia. Selling both means you can switch according to market demand – whichever innovator is offering the best feature set. We asked Connell about his views on single-source graphic card companies.

“Looking at the recent fortunes of brands like BFG, being single source for graphics is not a problem as long as you choose AMD’s Radeon products. Given the complete lack of deployment from nVidia in the mid-range and all important sub-£100 space, it must be quite a challenge to stay loyal right now. Companies like Sapphire, HIS and Powercolor have been going from strength to strength in my region and the drive we have seen from newcomer XFX has been equally impressive. Alongside Asus, Gigabyte and MSI, AMD has some great partnerships right now. It’s our responsibility to make it as easy as possible for our partners to sell Radeon graphics, said Connell.  “Business is all about making money and AMD’s lead in the design, development and deployment of a complete DX11 product stack has made it easy for everyone to make money with us”.

That's one market, but AMD competes in several areas. Some are a lot tougher than others.

AMD may well be almost twice the size of nVidia. But when you look at Intel's financials, you can see just what kind of challenge lies ahead.

Competition is much tougher in the CPU space. We asked Connell if he’s finding this market as easy as graphics. He replied, “Not at all. AMD has some great technologies, but there’s a huge difference in scale between AMD and Intel. We’re focusing on the areas in which we’re sure we can bring a lot more value to the table. Our 6 core products have been very popular, both with local system builders and with the multi-nationals. I saw a TV interview with Pat Gelsinger once in which he said “More cores are always better” and our customers are finding that out for themselves right now. Not every application is heavily threaded, but the ones that are show great performance improvements for 6 core processors over mass-market quad core parts”.

So has Craig managed to increase CPU sales anywhere?  Connell replied, “Looking at unit shipments, it’s very territorial. One of the major European markets has seen AMD grow market share by almost 10%. That’s something we’d love to see repeated everywhere”.

Selling units is one thing. Making money on those sales is something else. We asked Connell about AMD’s ASP – the Average Selling Price – a strong indicator as to whether processors are genuinely competitive. He smiled and said, “Margin? Now that’s something that has increased almost universally. AMD’s Phenom II X6 products have not only been in high demand, they are also great revenue generators”.

Connell believes his strongest customer offering, is his six appeal

Companies like AMD and Intel won’t generally discuss products that are under NDA (a non discloser agreement), but KitGuru asked anyway. Specifically, we wanted to know which innovation from AMD does Connell think will make the biggest difference to the world over the next 2 years?

Connell considered the question, and replied “AMD Fusion. Those two words will change the world. Never before has the world’s leading graphics manufacturer harnessed powerful GPU and CPU technology to create an integrated APU [Accelerated Processor Unit – Ed]. Right now, every customer meeting ends with them asking me for more information about the new AMD Fusion APU. When AMD launches Fusion to the market, there will be a sea-change in the way products are specified, manufactured and sold. At the same time, at the high end, our engineers are working hard to solve a completely different set of customer demands. Overall, we’re expecting 2011 to be a very busy time for AMD and the market”.

Given that AMD is still the only company with a CPU, GPU and chipset business, we asked Connell if that gave him any other advantages.

Another knowing grin, followed by “Definitely!  You need to remember that all of the growth AMD has enjoyed recently, has come with products that were – largely – already in development when the two companies came together. In the coming months, you will start to see fresh fruit dropping from the AMD Fusion tree – and it’s going to energise the global market”.

KitGuru has already reported on the movement from Sony, Clevo and others toward AMD with their 2011 roadmaps. If AMD Fusion can hit the right balance of power consumption, performance delivery and price, then it will be interesting to see just how much mobile market share they can pick up over the next 12 months.

Will Fusion power be enough to change the planet from blue to green?

Channel stuff to one side, we could not Connell go without asking him about the crown jewels.

KitGuru has already run performance predictions for the AMD Radeon 6870 card that we expect to be launch before Christmas 2010. If correct, it would be a huge leap forward. Did Craig care to comment? [Knowing smile] “Sorry, AMD does not comment on unannounced product”

Any final messages for your business partners?

“The same one we’ve been working to for years, work hard, make money and have fun!” said Connell.

Nice chap.

KitGuru says: Recent meetings with AMD, Intel and Kingston have give us a strong impression of just how powerful PCs and laptops will be by the end of 2011. This is about as exciting as it's been since AMD launched the FX or Intel broght us Conroe. It would be nice to see nVidia and its partners step fight up with Fermi and to see some strong price competition in the mainstream.KitGuru has put in the call, we'll let you know the response. Parting thought? Although no one from AMD has told us officially that the ATI brand has been closed down, we noted that Connell didn't refer to in once in the whole interview. Accident? We don't think so.

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  1. Great read Faith, thanks to Craig for taking the time 🙂

  2. seems like a fun guy, makes a change in these jobs 🙂

  3. Its interesting to read all these insider angled things. the fact nvidia cut off XFX recently and kitguru reported that and now this report. 2010 is AMD’s year.

  4. Very nice bloke – and good write up Faith. enjoyed my morning tea with this.

  5. Very relaxed and good to hear this views on things. CANT wait for the 6 series ATI boards (or AMD, whatever they call them now !)

  6. Fermi has been a flop. apart from the GTX460 which I would assume is selling well. I actually put a portion of this down to the fact that AMD executives dont all have their head up their arses 🙂

  7. Cool guy, football fan, cant go wrong with that 🙂

  8. Good read Faith. When is the new range of ATI cards out? November was it ?

  9. I think he moved companies at just the right time !

  10. Very affiable chap. I think AMD are in a very strong position. THey are really the only company who make very good CPU’s and class leading graphics cards. Even Intel don’t have that sway, and this is why I said yesterday on KitGuru that the 8 billion they WASTED on Mcafee (bloatware) should have been spent BUYING NVIDIA !

  11. I doubt he will read this, but thanks Craig for taking the time to let us diehard KitGuru fanatics know a little background history and the apparent excitement about the upcoming products 🙂

  12. Tips a glass to 2011. AMD ROCKS !