Aug 9, 2019

AMD CEO Lisa Su discusses her company's resurgence

Ina Fried, author of Login

AMD CEO Lisa Su, speaking at the 2nd generation EPYC launch in San Francisco. Photo: AMD

With Intel struggling to get to the next generation of chipmaking technology, AMD has an opportunity to gain some ground on its longtime rival.

The latest: AMD chief executive Lisa Su says that's why she wants to quickly ramp up production of the EPYC server chip, which launched this week. At the same time, she says AMD's long-term success can't be predicated on Intel's stumbles.

"I am counting on our competitor being really, really good. That just means we need to be better."
— Lisa Su

The big picture: AMD's history has been about brief moments in time where it was able to outflank Intel, but Su wants to transform the perennial also-ran into "one of the great technology growth stories."

  • "We are extraordinarily ambitious," she says. "I don’t want people to think this is a [temporary] thing."

Where it stands: At the moment, analysts say AMD is set to put a lot of pressure on Intel, including in the profitable data center business where AMD's new chips appear to outperform Intel's while costing significantly less.

  • I asked Su if she thought AMD would always have to price at a steep discount even when it can outperform Intel. She says that need not always be the strategy, but acknowledged that her company remains the underdog.
  • "What we are trying to do is make it very, very attractive for people to switch," Su adds.

Yes, but: For all its current success — and it is gaining ground on Intel — AMD recently cut its financial outlook for the year. Su blames that on lower expectations for the game console industry's performance this year.

  • "If you take out the console business, our new products are growing approximately 20% year on year," she says.
  • She adds that when the new generation of game consoles do make their debut, they will also have AMD inside, giving the company yet another boost.

Meanwhile, one area where Su has had to shift course is around China. AMD had licensed a lower performance version of its earlier technology for sale there through a joint venture, but was forced to change course amid shifts in U.S. policy.

  • "China is a big market; it’s a market that’s important for all of us in tech," Su says. "But make no mistake, we are a U.S. company. National security is priority number one. I’m really trying to find that balance."
  • The best way for the U.S. to battle China for technology leadership is to continue investing in R&D, according to Su. The U.S. has done that in the past and has plenty of engineering talent, she says.
  • "It’s a matter of deciding where you want to put that emphasis," she says. "I think that’s the key."
  • Su points to the work that AMD did with Oak Ridge National Laboratories to create Frontier, set to be the world's biggest super computer.

Go deeper: Lisa Su on building the new AMD

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