AMD's David Bennett on gaming, great APUs & the competition

David Bennett, Corporate VP, APAC Region, AMD tells Digit why he loves to talk about the competition and where AMD's headed.

By Nikhil Pradhan Published Date
23 - Sep - 2014
| Last Updated
23 - Sep - 2014
AMD's David Bennett on gaming, great APUs & the competition

AMD has been particularly active over the last year or so. With AMD APUs powering both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4, it’s a good time to hear from the company about where it thinks it’s headed, the state of gaming in India and a number of other topics. We got the chance to chat with David Bennett, who oversees the Asia-Pacific-Japan region for AMD as its Corporate VP in Delhi recently.

Here’s what he had to say:

Digit: Radeon Graphics is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Do you have plans for any commemorative graphics cards or schemes for gamers?

David Bennett: That’s a fantastic idea! We aren’t doing anything like that at the moment but we are celebrating it. We’re doing events, in fact we did one recently in Singapore. There’s some sensitivity around the entire thing since AMD is a 45-year old company and it’s been about 8 years since the ATI acquisition, so there’s some sensitivity about whether we should go crazy about the 30th anniversary of Radeon graphics. But we’re really proud of it and we’ve been doing local events. However, there are no major plans in terms of releases to mark the anniversary, although a 30th anniversary edition is a great idea, so don’t count it out.

Digit: What can you tell me of the Pirate Islands low power, high performance GPUs that you guys are working on?

David Bennett: I can’t really comment on this but what I can say is that we believe that we offer the best in terms of graphics technology. We know the GPU market really well and we have a good idea about what our competition is doing. So, whatever we launch, we believe that we will be able to tackle whatever our competition pushes out.

Let me put it this way, when I started out 2 years ago, two companies would keep me awake at night- Intel and Nvidia. Today, only one company does that- Intel. We are 100% committed to graphics and gaming, we’re not going to be distracted.

Digit: It’s been a year since you launched the Mantle API. What has been the developer response?

David Bennett: It is by far the single greatest thing in terms of response from developers. The biggest knock we get on forums is “Oh, we love Mantle, it’s a great idea, but we haven’t seen too many games.” Bulls**t! We’ve had more games out on Mantle in quicker time than DirectX 11 had! There are seven major game engines in the world, and we’ve announced four. Trust me, we’re very excited about game engines!

We announced Mantle, guess what happens? DirectX 12 gets announced soon after, that’s very similar to Mantle in terms of how it utilizes lower level architecture. When DirectX 12 comes out, it’s not going to be one or the other, you’ll be able to operate both at the same time and frankly, for developers, Mantle will be a great introduction to DirectX 12.

A slide from an AMD presentation comparing Mantle with DirectX 11

When I talk about Mantle, I think about consoles and I know India is not as big on consoles as some other markets but Mantle is all about bringing console level optimizations to the PC. We’re on all of the consoles and not just the GPU, it’s both CPU and GPU and that’s great. We’ve won but it’s not about how we won but why we won. You have Microsoft and Sony, the biggest companies in the world making multi-billion dollar 7 to 10 year investments and they’re not making it on AMD’s CPUs or GPUs, they’re making it on AMD’s top to bottom architecture. And similarly, you have Apple who have always had two CPUs and one GPU on their Mac Pros and this year, they do one CPU and two GPUs and guess what, it’s an AMD FirePro. The last 20 years has been about x86 and we believe the next 20 will be about Total Compute.

Digit: Rory Read (AMD CEO) recently said that the current AMD chips could not match against Intel’s and the new chips were a year away. Your comment?

AMD CEO Rory Read
Photo: Ashley Pon/Bloomberg

David Bennett: I can’t speak for Rory but it’s no secret where we position our products. We do not position our CPUs against an i7 and when it comes to pure x86 performance, Intel is the leader. If we lived in an x86 world, Intel would be on all of the consoles and they’d be no room for an AMD APU. I admit we have a lot of work to do with our x86 products but if you look at the way our products are performing in the channels, we’re doing very well.

But, when it comes to my mind, we are not focused on x86 compute, we’re focused on Total Compute. And the adoption of OpenGL, OpenCL and HSA is a big indicator that we’ve made the right move. Look at the amount of die space we’ve dedicated to our GPUs and compare that to our competition. Haswell, Broadwell both have increased GPUs now but we already did that ages ago.

Again, I don’t speak for Rory and it’s fair to say that we don’t necessarily compete with Intel toe-to-toe in terms of x86 IPC (instructions-per-cycle) performance and his words would say that there is possibly a desire to do so but I think we’ve made the right decisions in terms of prioritising. You look at a market like India and you see that the APU adoption’s been great. With new technology it takes time and I believe what he’s referring to is that the APU is new, and it will take time for the software ecosystem to catch up.

A great example is that if I’d come to you two or three years ago, I would have said OpenCL has a handful of applications and if I’d come to you last year, I would have said there’re about a 100 applications. Talk to me this year, and Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, all the browsers- Chrome, Firefox, Safari; Dolby Suite, Flash, I have named 95% of the applications that consumers use today that are accelerated by the GPU i.e. Total Compute and that plays really well into our strategy.

So, we don’t play in the high-end area with Intel but we do play in a much broader area which has much more meaningful results for consumers.

Digit: Why is AMD missing from the mobile SoCs segment? Both your competitors (Intel and Nvidia) are there, so what could be the reason?

David Bennett: When it comes to tablets, we’re absolutely there in Windows tablets and we make the best Windows tablets on the planet, bar none. I hope Windows tablets continue to grow and the better they get, the stronger we’ll get. We’ve spent the last couple of years designing products with the customer in mind and what I mean by that is that we used to focus on core CPU and pure speed but a couple of years ago we adopted a refreshed design philosophy where we said that let’s design stuff that actually gives better real world performance. And that’s what our APUs do. In the same price bracket, plus or minus $100 - $200, you put our product next to a competing product and we’re going to perform better.

We’re also focused on graphics and gaming. What we’re not interested in is an $8, bottom of the barrel, really low-end processor that provides just good enough or sub-par experience. We’re very interested in leveraging our assets and our IP to provide high-performance graphics and gaming in mobiles and tablets. If you look at the market, it’s really focused on the low-end and that will change. So, what we’ve announced with ARM or in Project Skybridge, is us very clearly stating that we will have the best ARM processor and as ARM and Android step-up, there will be a place where we’d like to play.

We’re in the business of making money and what I mean by that we’re not in the business of throwing a whole lot of money away to buy a market. If you see what our competitors are doing to get in the market, a lot of money is being thrown around with very little results to show for it and it’s a bloody market. It’s wrapped up by MediaTek, by Rockchip, by all those guys, and we’re interested in getting to places where customers can benefit from what we have to offer.

Digit: But we’ve seen some great processors from Intel (in the Asus Zenfone 5) that perform well. There’s a lack of quality in the sub-15k range and AMD would do well to cater to that. A couple of years ago, AMD and Intel were the only two names people knew when it came to processors and now you have this huge new market and it’s just surprising to not see AMD there.

David Bennett: That’s fair and it’s mainly because of the proliferation of ARM and the number of choices that have opened up. But if we have a limited amount of resources to spend, we want to continue doubling down on where we’re strong- graphics, gaming and compute. I think if we start looking at a business that’s really commoditized, low margin, really dirty, that’s this segment. Even our biggest competitor is having trouble in this market and we don’t want to jump in. We want to surveil the market and when it’s ready for high performance ARM products, we’re going to have the best products in the market.

Digit: What can you tell us about AMD’s Seattle project (low powered ARM SoCs for servers)? Is that a sort of pilot program for ARM SoCs from AMD?

David Bennett: That’s a good point. The Seattle is an A57 core-hardened chip and we’ve put our IP blocks around it. We’ve got 45 years of experience designing CPUs and designing good CPUs that offer differentiation is not easy. Seattle is a great example of that. Also Project Skybridge in which we are looking at client based PCs as well. So Seattle is a server based product but we’ve also said that in a single socket, motherboard and chassis, we’re going to offer the choice of having an x86 or ARM processor. If you’re an OEM with a Chromebook or a Windows machine, you have to choose right now between x86 and ARM. Look at Chromebook which is doing a top-level translation, just like Rosetta Stone did with OS X, it’s not native. So, if Chromebook implements the Play Store, which people expect it will, there’s going to be a whole bunch of applications that can’t be emulated perfectly. We believe that the best Android experience is on ARM and the best Windows experience is on x86. So, Skybridge will help an OEM to go to market in two weeks with a Windows product and two weeks later come out with an Android product. The OEM can have the same chassis but with two different choices.

So, that’s our next step with ARM and we’ve bet on it and we will have the best products in the market. It’s too early to comment on the segment but it shows promise.

Digit: Microsoft has revealed a clear difference between Windows 9 on tablets and PCs. With tablet sales stagnating and notebook and PC sales expected to rise, will AMD develop different solutions for both?

David Bennett: AMD has never strayed from its core business, we’ve always said that we will focus on PC. The consumer PC market has seen its ups and downs but the commercial market has been doing well and we’ll continue to cater to that. If you look at our roadmap, you’ll see that although we use the same architecture, be it x86 or ARM, we do have products that cater to tablets and products that cater to notebooks and PCs. We will continue to offer different products to both markets.

Digit: What does AMD see itself in India for the next few years? How has AMD performed in India in the recent past?

David Bennett: If you see where AMD has been successful in the APAC region, the place with the most strategic importance for us is India, hands-down. If you look at our commercial market share in India for the last couple of years, it is one of the highest for us globally. If we look at the opportunities in India, you have a new government that’s very eager to open up so strategically, right from my CEO to all the way down, India is on the tip of everyone’s tongue always. We’re continuing to invest in both consumer and commercial, and in DIY component markets here.

In the commercial market we have a share of  about 36%, which is one of our highest commercial shares anywhere. We have a little less than 20% of the consumer market share which is somewhat at par with global rates but is among the higher ones in APAC and we expect that to continue to grow. We’re starting to see a little life coming out of the DIY CPU and GPU markets and the APU has been huge for us here, GPUs usually don’t do that well in India but we’re starting to see that change with PC gaming going through a revitalization. We expect our share of the commercial market to go up to 40% by next year. We’re targeting 30% for the consumer market but realistically, I think we’re going to reach 25%.

Digit: Overall, how much of AMD’s revenue comes from gaming?

David Bennett: Okay, that relates to something Rory said last year. He made a commitment last year that by end of next year, that 50% of AMD revenues will be generated from new business, as opposed to 64% from traditional PC centric business right now. So, what qualifies as new? Embedded, servers and semi-custom like the consoles. I’ve made a personal commitment that the APAC region’s going to be the first to reach this 50% goal. Gaming, by itself, is a little harder to break down but as per our new diversification, we’re on track with our goals. If you just look at the numbers from the consoles, both Microsoft and Sony have gone on record to state that this has been the fastest selling launch for new consoles, so obviously that’s driving a huge percentage of our revenues.

If you look at our strategy for the next couple of years, it’s gaming and VR that we are also focused on.

Digit: What are the trends in India with respect to GPU sales?

David Bennett: I’ll be completely honest. When I came on, everybody told me, don’t bother with India, there’s no market for GPUs. But I’ve seen my GPU sales increase every quarter since I’ve had this job, over the last three quarters. If you look at our competitiveness against Nvidia, we’ve never been more competitive. Card for card we offer better value, at a better price, hands down. We’ve got Mantle, we’re on the consoles, we’ve got a lot of momentum. So, as the Indian middle class expands, and it has more disposable income, coupled with the fact that a majority of the population is young, all of that is going to be huge for gaming. A lot of it will depend on broadband infrastructure, but I see both PC and console gaming expand here and that’ll be good for AMD.

Nikhil PradhanNikhil Pradhan