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The Story of Advanced Micro Devices

Semiconductors for the world

As part of my exploration of what makes artificial intelligence possible – the hardware underlying the software I thought it would be interesting to read more about one of the largest semiconductor companies in the world. Therefore I took an interest in the story of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). This article is a summary of their overall story from Wikipedia and done mainly to learn more about the company.

AMD was founded the 1st of May and have as such been around for more than 51 years. It was set up by Jerry Sanders with seven colleagues from Fairchild Semiconductor.

Jerry had been the director of marketing At Fairchild. He was frustrated with the lack of support and flexibility in the company so he left to set up his own semiconductor company. The year before Robert Noyce had developed the first silicon integrated circuit in 1959 and left with Gordon Moore to found Intel in July 1968.

In 1969, AMD changed their location to Sunnyvale, California.

They became a became a second supplier. So they started making microchips designed by Fairchild and National Semiconductor and. guaranteed quality control to United States Military Standard.

  • The first product from AMD was. the Am9300, a 4-bit MSI shift register. This began selling in 1970.

Then AMD also produced its first proprietary product, the Am2501 logic counter. Its best-selling product in 1971 was the Am2505, the fastest multiplier available.

In 1971, AMD entered the RAM chip market and at the end of the year their sales reached US$4.6 million.

AMD went public in September 1972 and became a second source for Intel MOS/LSI circuits by 1973.

When Intel began installing microcode in its microprocessors in 1976, it entered into a cross-licensing agreement with AMD.

In 1977, AMD entered into a joint venture with Siemens, a German engineering conglomerate. Siemens bought 20% of AMD’s stock giving the company a cash infusion to increase product lines.

The two established Advanced Micro Computers (AMC) the same year, however their shared vision changed — Siemens was bought out and AMD closed AMC 1981.

Total sales for AMD in fiscal year 1978 topped $100 million.

1979, AMD debuted on the New York Stock Exchange.

In 1980, AMD began supplying semiconductor products for telecommunications, an industry undergoing rapid expansion and innovation.

Intel and AMD entered into a 10-year technology exchange agreement, first signed in October 1981 and formally executed in February 1982.

One would acquire the right to become the second-source manufacturer for the other. However this was not simple trade each party had to the right to manufacture and sell a product developed by the other. This was agreed to by exchanging the manufacturing rights to a product of equivalent technical complexity.

In 1983, it introduced INT.STD.1000, the highest manufacturing quality standard in the industry.

AMD spent a lot on R&D, and it created the world’s first 512K EPROM in 1984.

EPROM or erasable programmable read-only memory, is a type of programmable read-only memory (PROM) chip that retains its data when its power supply is switched off.

In 1984 it was listed as 100 best placed to work and in 1985 it made the Fortune 500 list (a list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue for their respective fiscal years).

After mid-1985 there was a downturn due to cheap products from Japan, and due to a crowded market in the US.

To compete AMD was innovating with the Liberty Chip program. They were designing and manufacturing one new chip or chipset per week for 52 weeks in fiscal year 1986. They also lobbied the government to sanction Japanese companies.

AMD announced the acquisition of the graphics processor company ATI Technologies on July 24, 2006. ATI retired their brand name in 2010 for its graphics chipsets in favour of the AMD brand name.

In October 2008, AMD announced plans to spin off manufacturing operations in the form of a multibillion-dollar joint venture with Advanced Technology Investment Co., an investment company formed by the government of Abu Dhabi. The new venture is called GlobalFoundries Inc.

Due to the recession AMD cut 1,100 jobs in 2009.

In November 2011 plans to lay off more than 10% (1,400) of its employees from across all divisions worldwide.

In October 2012, it announced plans to lay off an additional 15% of its workforce to reduce costs in the face of declining sales revenue.

They began focusing more on server chips. AMD acquired the low-power server manufacturer SeaMicro in early 2012, with an eye to bringing out an ARM architecture server chip.

Reorganisation into two business groups

On October 16, 2014, AMD announced a new restructuring plan along with its Q3 results. As part of this they cut 7% of its global workforce. Effective July 1, 2014, AMD reorganized into two business groups:

  1. Computing and Graphics, which primarily includes desktop and notebook processors and chipsets, discrete GPUs, and professional graphics.
  2. Enterprise, Embedded, and Semi-Custom, which primarily includes server and embedded processors, dense servers, semi-custom SoC products (including solutions for gaming consoles), engineering services, and royalties.

The number of employees in 2019 were 11,400. Currently AMD is unique in that it’s the only chipmaker that currently makes both central processing units (CPUs) and graphics processing units (GPUs).

  • Both processors are used in intense computing applications, including AI and machine learning.

Currently, it’s the second largest producer of both, behind leading Intel and NVIDIA .

Lately it is said that AMD has managed to leapfrog Intel in producing leading-edge 7nm chips in late 2018.

AMD has also been taking market share in laptops for 10 straight quarters.

Data centres are growing worldwide with increasing data usage as well as the reaction to the Coronavirus.

Here’s a few reasons to keep an eye on AMD:

  • So AMD with its second-generation 7nm EPYC data center processors have landed big names in tech.
  • AMD also won a contract to supply the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories supercomputer with not only its EPYC CPUs but also its Radeon GPUs.
  • AMD now exclusively powers two of the three large U.S. super-computing systems that have been publicly announced, further boosting AMD’s street cred and putting its brand on par — or exceeding — that of the other leaders.
  • AMD’s semi-custom chip segment will also benefit from the new PlayStation and Xbox game consoles set to be released during the holiday season this year.

AMD’s has a focus on data centres, laptops, gaming, and high-performance computing. As such it may be an interesting hardware company to know about if you are following what is happening within the field of artificial intelligence.

AI Policy and Ethics at www.nora.ai. Student at University of Copenhagen MSc in Social Data Science. All views are my own. twitter.com/AlexMoltzau