AMD's Lisa Su at Computex, on the record: Threadripper, Huawei, ray tracing and more

Su addresses Threadripper, the Huawei situation, motherboard BIOS issues, and why anyone should care that Intel is hiring so many journalists.

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Why hasn’t AMD announced anything in AI?

Reporter: We’ve seen a lot from other companies in the industry, that one of the buzzwords over the next few years is AI machine learning. Can you talk to what AMD is doing in this area, especially when a lot of your competitors are actively engaged here?

Su: Yeah, so we really believe in a heterogeneous architecture. So if you look at our consumer CPUs, or sort of how we think about, you know, sort of the system environment, you know, the world of CPUs plus GPUs, plus accelerators are important. We are very actively working on some of these machine-learning accelerators as well being integrated into our silicon. And we’ll talk more about that as we get closer.

Reporter (who arrived late): David, what are your thoughts about ray tracing in mainstream graphics?

Wang: We’ll talk more about it in June.

Su: Ten days.

McAfee: We’ll give you a good full update on the tech day.

Su: What you should expect, though, is ray tracing, it’s important technology, you will see it across our portfolio, and particularly in working with the ecosystem, we’ll ensure that there there will be strong ecosystem support. 

Intel’s hiring

Reporter: A slightly different question: What are your thoughts on your competitors’ hiring up all the tech journalists? It means fewer people talking about AMD.

Su: You guys seem to talk about us a lot, so I don’t feel worried about that. Look, I am extremely proud of the team that we have at AMD. And if you look across our engineering team, you know, on the CPU side, the GPU side, the business environment, I think we have a tremendous team that’s always going to push the envelope. I like tech reporters reporting on technology. So thank you, and you guys for doing that. And, you know, I feel very, very good about the amount of attention that AMD gets. Sometimes, I think, maybe a little too much attention.

core i9 9900ks with ryan shrout 2 Mark Hachman / IDG

Ryan Shrout, former journalist and now chief performance strategist for Intel.

No, actually, that’s not true. There’s no such thing as too much attention. There’s probably a little bit of ensuring that the rumor mill doesn’t get out of control.

Platform questions: Threadripper, PCIe, motherboards

Reporter: Now that you’ve got more cores in mainstream Ryzen, can it be argued at all that it’s stepping on Threadripper’s toes?

Su: I was asked that question earlier. I think Threadripper is still important. So you will see future generations of Threadrippers from us. Now, obviously, if mainstream is moving up, then Threadripper is going to have to move up-up. That’s what we’re working on.

Reporter: It feels like Intel has hit a wall with desktop clients, and that they’re emphasizing platform technologies like Optane and Thunderbolt as much as anything else. Is that going to be a problem for AMD?

Su: Well, first of all, we haven’t hit a wall on desktop architectures. And we’ve been really sort of focused on bringing more compute performance into whether you’re talking about desktop, or you’re talking about the server ecosystem or any of these ecosystems. I think open standards are really important. And we work across the industry, with the memory vendors, and all of the other guys, and we’re going to continue to do that. So I don’t see it as a significant disadvantage, I see it as an opportunity. And that’s why we’re always bringing the ecosystem together.

intel optane more general perf numbers Mark Hachman / IDG

If you look at the number of people who are supporting PCI Gen4, we didn’t expect to be first. The fact that we are first and all of these ecosystem partners are extraordinarily aggressive getting their technology qualified and available, to sit with our ecosystem, I think gives you just a little bit of a view of the [inaudible] ecosystem.

Reporter: With PCI Express 4, there was a pretty big lag before that was introduced in the market. PCI Express 5 is just around the corner. Do you see a faster uptake of that, and do you think PCI Express 4 will be short-lived?

Su: Well, I think it remains to be seen, things always seem like they’re going to be faster. And things always take a little bit longer than you expect.

Reporter: As a follow up, there have been reports that some motherboards won’t support the new Ryzen, specifically the third-gen processors. Is that accurate? The A-series boards in particular. 

McAfee: Right. So I think that as we look across the ecosystem of motherboards that exists today, we certainly make available BIOS updates to our ecosystem partners to include that on different levels and on the boards that they have in their portfolio. But I do not expect that every motherboard will be updated for 3000-series processors [inaudible]. That really will be a portfolio decision on their standpoint as well as to where they apply those updates. And when they choose not to apply those updates.

Hallock: I do think there is a bigger story here, that no one in the history of x86 has created an upgradable socket quite like [AMD’s socket] AM4. In a time where our competitor is breaking socket compatibility yearly—basically, you have three consecutive generations, all dropped into the same socket. And that socket was started at four cores, years ago, and is now 12 cores 24 threads PCI Gen 4, [inaudible]. And that to me is the bigger story than a motherboard here and there that doesn’t get a BIOS update.

Reporter: With PCI Express 4.0 backwards compatibility, who is validating that and the transfer rates?

McAfee: So certainly if if they’re going to declare their motherboards PCI Gen4 ready, that’s a certification that happens through the PCI SIG, not through AMD.

I think that you know, what we have seen as we launch our new product, our X570 platform, that’s the platform that we carry the PCIe Gen4 readiness certification that goes along with it. Beyond that, other motherboards may or may not be compatible with Gen4. So it really depends on how those old boards were designed, what their capabilities are at a platform level. And as we go out the gate, we do not expect the older motherboards to have compatibility for Gen4.

Reporter: Can we say anything about Renoir [a rumored APU combining Zen 2 technology and Vega GPU cores]? There have been reports that the project is dead.

Su: That is not true. It is doing well.

Drew Prairie, AMD spokesman: We might want to start with, we don’t know what Renoir is.

Reporter: Future Ryzen mobile.

Huawei and the PC market

Reporter: Given that the entire PC industry is worried about the future, are you? Does that weigh on your outlook?

Su: From a product standpoint, it does not change what we do at all. From a product standpoint, our roadmaps are laid out for the next three to five years. And we’re continuing to be very aggressive on that roadmap.

From a business standpoint, of course, we pay attention to some of the global issues that are out there. And, you know, all business leaders would like it to be resolved as soon as possible. But from our product roadmap standpoint, it does not have a significant impact.

Reporter: Can you comment on your relationship with Huawei?

Su: Huawei is a customer of ours, they’ve done some very nice PCs, with our first-generation Ryzen as well as our second-generation Ryzen. You know, obviously, we’re a U.S. company. So we’re complying with the current U.S. regulations. And, as I said yesterday, we would like things to be resolved as soon as possible.

Reporter: So does this mean that you are suspending sales?

Su: We are abiding by the U.S. regulations.

Is AMD adding more design teams?

Reporter: I’ve been told by Mark Papermaster that there’s one CPU architecture group and two implementation groups. Given your recent successes, is that expected to change?

Su: The CPU group is definitely getting larger. By the way, so is the GPU group. David has a very large team. We are on a very clear roadmap. To Zen 2, which we’re talking about today, Zen 3 is deep, deep into development, Zen 4 is also in development and similarly we’re talking about the first generation of RDNA today, we have several generations in parallel that are working.

So I think the one thing that I would like to say is our roadmap has not changed. When Mark and I and the rest of the team started the roadmap, it was with the idea that we needed multiple generations of continuous improvement. So for Zens and plus, and twos, and three, that was all part of the plan. And as we go forward, we’re going to continue to be very, very aggressive on both the CPU and GPU engines.

Reporter: So I guess my question was whether AMD has the ability to bring two separate CPU architectures into the market.

Su: You know, it’s not clear that we would want to do that. What we have learned is by focusing our resources on Zen—of course, you understand that the Zen that we brought in server is a bit different from the Zen that we brought in PC form factor. Certainly the frequencies, the powers, all those things are a little bit different. But we get incredible learning by using the same technology across multiple markets. So I don’t think we are likely to change that in the near future.

Thoughts on THATIC

Reporter: Going back to the U.S. regulations question, how is your joint venture with THATIC affected?

Su: So THATIC was formed several years ago. We did the initial technology transfer, at that point of time. We are continuing the joint venture, and most of the work was on the joint venture side, not the AMD side.

Reporter: Will that continue moving forward into future generations such as Zen 2 or Zen 3? 

Su: We are not discussing any additional technology transfers.

Reporter: You aren’t discussing with them, or you aren’t discussing with us?

Su: Let me be clear. The THATIC joint venture was a single generation of technology devices. There are no additional technology licenses.

Reporter: Did they license a core, or...?

Su: A single implementation. I don’t think we ever said what they licensed. We said they licensed an x86 CPU implementation.

Does the future of the PC include AMD?

Reporter: On a broader level, I’m wondering, how are you looking at the changing form factors of PCs?  Is that something you guys are thinking about?

Su: We’re doing a lot with the PC OEMs. As part of the newer form factors are being done with second-generation Ryzen Mobile, I think you’ll see more as we go forward. So yeah, look, I think PC, form-factor innovation is pretty important. And we’re very involved with both Microsoft and the OEMs.

amd lisa su on 7 nm real Mark Hachman / IDG

Reporter: How important is the halo spot in the GPU market for AMD?

Su: You should ask David that.

Wang: Very important. We should be able to compete very well in the higher-end space. 

Reporter: How do you feel about 5G PCs? Do you think that there will be 5G PCs?

Su:  Yeah, look, I think that there will be 5G PCs. Certainly.

I think 5G is still early. Also, it’s still the infrastructure timing at this point, not quite [there] on the consumer side.

Reporter: Intel loves doing these projects, such as Project Athena, which are designed to bring an ecosystem together but also involve selling more Intel hardware...

Su: I think, look, what you hopefully have seen is the progression of form factors from first-gen Ryzen to second-gen Ryzen to beyond second-gen Ryzen.  And I will say that, for a long time, OEMs didn’t necessarily put AMD processors in the best form factors. And we’ve been working very closely with the OEMs to introduce many more. That’s why you saw, sort of the Microsoft modern device category as being something that we focused a lot on.

We’re focusing a lot on the user experience, and what that brings, and I think you will be very pleasantly surprised with new form factors that will come out with AMD in the coming months.

Reporter: Given that AMD is exclusively sourcing 7nm from TSMC, with no redundancy from GlobalFoundries, are you worried about supply at all?

Su: We have a great relationship with TSMC. And I would say that our rev for 7nm has been one of the smoothest revs that we’ve had across a number of different parts. So yes, I believe that we’re going to have the capacity that we need. 

Prairie: I think that’s about all the time we have. Thanks, everyone. 

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