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Exclusive interview with Dr Lisa Su from AMD

You can always tell how useful a person is to a company. As each new skill is realised, so another set of responsibilities is loaded on your shoulders and your job title increases. Not only does Lisa Su have Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), she has also been published in more than 40 technical publications and has been named a Fellow of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers. Her reward for all that success is the role of  Senior Vice President and General Manager, Global Business Units for AMD. Now THAT's what we call a big job title. She's also really nice, as we were to discover over in Taipei.

Despite a solid leap in recent revenues, AMD has a lot of challenges – and they are all in areas that we're familiar with. Production agility, time to market and channel support are just 3 areas that have caused friction recently. Then there's the perennial question of ‘Where is AMD's silver bullet'. ARM has the Cortex-powered tablets, nVidia has buddied-up with Tegra – while still doing quite well with Quadro workstation parts and Intel has the serious high end chip market – including a tasty server line-up.

Where does Lisa see AMD's best line of attack?
“No one is infallible”, she replied. “AMD has a full line up of products, from graphics to CPU to APU and we believe we can win in key markets”. She says this with the calm confidence of an engineering expert who knows her company's roadmap backwards. Given the type and range of solutions being presented by AMD at Computex 2012, the company seems to have more vision these days.

Dr Lisa Su presenting one of AMD's next generation, Ultrathin Hybrid devices - designed to run Windows 8 smoothly

So what does AMD consider a key market?
“We are working on a powerful server space offering, with important performance-per-watt advantages over our competitors”, she said. “At the same time, our APU range provides the perfect combination of CPU and GPU for the next generation of thin and light notebook products”.

And, sure enough, there was a stylish Samsung model on hand for demonstration. “We will also be announcing some new tablet wins shortly as well”, she added with a smile.

As every guru knows, the workstation market is where the biggest margins lie.

We asked Lisa about her company's ambitions in the workstation market
“Key to our success here will be Matt Skynner”, explained Lisa. “His work with the Radeon brand over the past decade has been exemplary and he will now be in charge of AMD's FirePro workstation products as well”. Lisa is obviously expecting big things from Matt.

We asked if AMD was considering giving Sapphire (who has the role for Asia Pacific) the global contract for workstation graphics, but it seems that AMD wants to retain some control in this area. But there is an underlying logic. Workstations is an area where, if AMD wants to succeed, it will need to pour a huge amount of money into its software teams in order to get the crucial certifications – not only for its own products – but also partner systems. We had a conversation with AMD about workstations, back in 2002, and the response was very similar – that software and certification are vital.

AMD and the channel
We wanted to address AMD’s channel offering, so we asked about the staggered release of Trinity – AMD’s next generation APU products. KitGuru was already getting hands-on with this technology back in February – but end users are unlikely to be able to buy an A10 in store until the last quarter of the year.

Lisa explained, “The channel is important for AMD, but Trinity needs a complete eco-system in place in order to launch properly. We expect that everything will be ready shortly – but APU is crucial to AMD so it’s important that we launch each generation properly”.

Where will AMD focus in the future?
Lisa was very busy during Computex, but we did manage to touch on one last important area – and that was ‘focus'. Given that AMD is not only fighting against Intel and nVidia for market share – but also Samsung, ARM and a host of smaller companies – does it make sense to try and create processors from embedded/mobile/entry level right the way through to Core i7 Extreme competitors?

Lisa said, “We will continue to challenge Intel in every sector of the processor market, from top to bottom. Offering customers choice across the board is a crucial part of AMD’s commitment to the market”.

What about other technologies and new partnerships?
The ARM TrustZone news is also interesting, so we asked Lisa what this means for AMD. She replied, ““We will develop a platform security processor that will be integrated into future APUs using the Cortex A5 processor that features TrustZone technology. We have talked about being more flexible and leveraging third party IP, and that is what this is”.

Take aways from our time with Dr Lisa Su?
It looks as though AMD will continue to compete in all sectors – that it believes it can pick up market share in the high-value server and workstation sectors – and that it wants to reconnect with the channel in 2012/13 to build more business at grass roots level. Nice. KitGuru firmly believes that the greater the competition in each market sector, the better it is for our readers. Knowing that AMD is committed to competing everywhere is good to hear.

Enough of the technology and market, what about the personal likes and dislikes of AMD's Senior VP?   We hit Lisa with a standardised set of KitGuru questions and this is what we learned:-

What was the first computer Lisa owned?
Apple II when I was in junior high school

If Lisa was driving along a Pacific highway, on ‘the perfect day’, which car would she be driving, what song would be on her radio and who would be her passenger?
Porsche 911 Carrera, Hotel California, my husband, Dan

If Lisa wanted to impress friends, what would she cook at home?
Dan’s ribs
[We're going to assume that Lisa has delegated the cooking here, in deference to some special ‘rib recipe' that Dan has, rather than actually roasting said husband's ribs]

Which dish does she love, but can’t make it right – so she always needs to order it at a restaurant?
Burger & fries

If Lisa could invent one thing, what would it be?
A faster plane so I can get around to our customers a lot quicker!

KitGuru says: We offer a huge THANK YOU! to Lisa for taking the time to discuss AMD's plans for the future with us. Much appreciated and very informative.

Comment below or in the KitGuru forums.

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