Summary: Recently we had the chance to talk with AMD's Henri Richard, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Marketing. Over the course of the interview, we discussed many topics, so many in fact that we had to split it up into two articles. In Part One of our interview, we discuss overclocking, multi-core CPUs, Athlon 64 FX, and AMD's 64-bit software transition. You'll also want to check out the section on Henri's decked-out gaming rigs. Enjoy!
The last half of 2003 has been a busy period for AMD. Fresh off the unveiling of their 64-bit processors for the server/workstation market in the form of Opteron, the company has recently launched its desktop and mobile 64-bit variants, Athlon 64 for the mainstream market, and at the very high-end, Athlon 64 FX. In light of these developments, we thought it was time to catch up with a representative from AMD to discuss these products, their adoption among both partners and consumers, as well as the challenges they face. Of course, we also didnít forget to ask about AMDís chief rival, Intel!
Just recently we were given the opportunity to converse about these topics with AMDís Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Marketing, Mr. Henri Richard. The following is a transcript of the first portion our phone conversation:
FiringSquad: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers and describe your role at AMD?
Henri Richard: Sure, I joined AMD a couple of years ago. I run the worldwide sales and marketing for AMD, all three business units. As you may be aware, half of AMDís business is in processors but we also have another big business which is our flash memory business and we also have some embedded processors for platform devices and embedded computing. We have a few product lines that may not be familiar to your readers. One of them is Alchemy which is a MIPS-based device processor. Itís a very low power, high performance processor, and the other one is an x86-based processor that we acquired from National Semiconductor called Geode. We consider it a very popular product designed in many thin clients today.
So I came to AMD from the software industry, I was running worldwide field operations for a company called WebGain, who is the leader in Java development software. And prior to that I was with IBM Corporation where I ran their storage business. Iíve spent most of my career in Europe and moved over to the US five years ago.
FiringSquad: We hear that youíre a gamer. Could you tell us how you got into gaming?
Henri Richard: Well I got into gaming because, well Iíve been in this business for many, many years. I started programming in assembly language on the 8086. So letís see, there were the 80s and the Apple II so I started gaming on the Apple II and then I moved onto the PC. Iíve always been a fan of high tech because I work in the computer industry so Iíve always built my own system and I find it important that if youíre in my position in this business to have hands-on experience with the products in the marketplace to assess whether the value proposition that manufacturers are putting into the marketing pitch are real or not.
So I have a very disciplined approach to buying all the latest graphics cards, the latest storage devices, and of course testing many motherboards and trying to figure out if the value that we bring to the customer is real. Iím also a [inaudible] pilot [Brandon laughs] and a faithful customer of Microsoft and every single version of Flight Simulator since its inception.
FiringSquad: Wow. What are your favorite games and genres? What games are you currently playing?
Henri Richard: Well again, flight simulator is always a standard on my system but of course I have to confess that I like to shoot them up and so I have been a big fan of Quake and Doom and Unreal. I typically, well Iím a customer of Gamespy, and so I download automatically all the new games. I love Medal of Honor and [inaudible] also Return to Castle Wolfenstein of course.
SIDEBAR: Henriís corporate profile
FiringSquad: AMD has always had a loyal following among the gaming community. Why do you think this is so? Do you think your participation in the Professional Gaming League (PGL) helped?
Henri Richard: Well I think that the reason why weíve always had such a great reception among the gaming community is because theyíre technology savvy people. Weíve always been in the general market, but somewhat outdone by the heavy marketing of our competitor. But when it comes to the reality of performance, value, and real innovation youíre talking to a technology savvy user and the core of our marketing covers reality and in reality [inaudible] are better, that weíve been leading in many areas and I think that they also recognize that they get a better value out of an AMD system. So I think thatís the reason.
Also, we have a very open approach to the entire add-in system. And so typically youíll see some really great things from the motherboard guys and the AMD infrastructure. Whereas our competitor has the tendency to try to do everything themselves and somewhat stifle competition and innovation on their platform.
Often independently from the processor performance, the overall platform that you can find around the AMD infrastructures are just better.
As far as sponsoring the gaming community obviously I think thatís very important for us, particularly since we now have the Athlon FX of really great products for that very high end community. I believe that with the Athlon FX platforms you can actually be unbeatable because of the response time of the system and so I want to do as much as we can afford to in terms of sponsoring the gaming community.
FiringSquad: Earlier you said that you actually build your own gaming rigs. Can you tell us a little about your PC/building experience, and your current gaming system?
Henri Richard: Sure. Yeah so I always build my own systems I like to plan my builds, I like to select components. I typically, you know Iím blessed with many connections within the industry so I work with partners, that, you know, if they need beta testersÖ[Iím there]
But my configuration today is, well I have two configurations. I have a water cooled Athlon XP 3200+. Iím using the Koolance water-cooling system. On that system Iíve got an NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 and 2GB of memory and thereís two 250GB Maxtor Serial ATA hard drives. So thatís my XP 3200 and I just finished putting together an Athlon 64 FX 51 thatís in a Thermaltake box. Itís not water-cooled but itís a very cool box, with seven thermostatically controlled fans, very low RPM fans. In that one Iíve got an NVIDIA 5950, the latest one, and also dual 250GB Maxtor drives and 4GB of memory and I just purchased the latest Sound Blaster ZS, the Audigy 2 ZS. I have to confess that I havenít been fortunate to, well Iíve been on the road for two weeks so I havenít had the chance to actually setup the system and install the software that I want on it yet.
But I like to test. I like, well my systems are constantly in a state of evolution. I have seven different platforms at home that I keep rotating. I also have a home server that I run 24/7 that I use as a gaming server. I also fitted it with an FM radio emitter. Thatís my own private radio station without any advertisements on it thatís basically using Winamp and scanning a database of MP3 files that I made out of my CD collection of over 12,000 titles.
FiringSquad: Wow thatís pretty impressive
Henri Richard: Yeah, itís great. Iím surprised, you know that FM card is like $150 bucks and Iím surprised that there arenít more people that use that because every time I talk to friends or people in the industry about it they think itís a cool idea because a lot of people donít want advertisements when you listen to the radio and itís [inaudible] and itís doing 50 milliwatts. You know it gives me basically, the range is about half a mile from my house and it gets great reception, itís really cool. I expect that one of these days it will be a standard feature in multimedia PCs.
SIDEBAR: AMDís Professional Gaming League was run in part by FiringSquad founders Dennis & Lyle Fong as well as Kenn Hwang
FiringSquad: Obviously we know that AMD doesnít advocate overclocking, but have you overclocked any of your personal systems?
Henri Richard: Sure. I actually test my systems for their overclocking capabilities. I find it an interesting, you know an interesting way of understanding what people out there are doing and what are the consequences of it for the system.
You know overclocking, of course itís not recommended but itís very dependent on how well youíre cooling your system. And as you know we now have a policy to lock down the frequency of all the products so thereís one product that will continue to be open and itís the FX product line. The Athlon 64 FX will never be locked and it will continue to evolve for the people that buy those parts at the very high end of the market to get the most out of the experience in terms of overclocking.
FiringSquad: One advantage the Athlon 64 FX adds over the Athlon 64 is an unlocked multiplier. Can you describe how this idea got started? Were any executives nervous about adding this feature?
Henri Richard: Well first I think nature will find a way. You canít, you know you canít keep people from testing and doing things like that. We donít support or recommend it but you have to acknowledge there are these people out there. What Iíd rather do as a marketing strategy is we settle this creative energy on our platforms on one particular part that is designed from the ground up to be a very high end part which would allow people to go and play around with it and do all kinds of, you know performance boosting.
The problem with overclocking in general is that if you let it go uncontrolled you end up with people who are not gamers that are just, you know, greedy people who are selling systems to uneducated users, overclocking them and you know itís not properly cooled and that has a drastic affect on the life cycle of the product and then your brand gets affected because youíve got someone who just bought a system and he didnít understand at all what he was buying and ends up with problems so at the end of the day itís the AMD name that gets tainted.
You know I have a very open mind about this but on one hand its very important for us to protect our brand to make sure people like what they bought and so we need to be very strict in terms of keeping, you know unethical individuals who overclock and sell a product. Thatís not right. But on the other side of the spectrum itís great to have a bunch of enthusiasts out there that really love AMD, love the brand and want to get the best out of it. You know thatís okay for them to have a part that they can go and play around with.
FiringSquad: Will AMD be adding anything to the Athlon 64 FX in the future to make it more appealing to gamers/enthusiasts over the conventional Athlon 64 or do you think the unlocked multiplier is enough?
Henri Richard: Well you know I think that the FX is going to be an ongoing favorite with the gamers. It really will vindicate us being the fastest product out there. Itís a great part, we believe that, you know people who like the full power of 64-bit as both the operating system on the Windows side and some of the games that arenít available quite yet but I believe that some of the games will start shipping before year end. Thereís a lot of headroom in that part in terms of what you can experience from a gaming perspective once youíre able to completely unleash the 64-bitness.
So thatís really the one thing to go and focus on, which is weíve got the right software out there that will take advantage of this great engine. In terms of technical changes or things that we could do to the part I donít want to make any comments at this point.
SIDEBAR: Our Athlon 64 FX article
FiringSquad: What are your thoughts on Intelís Pentium 4 Extreme Edition? Do you feel it was a knee-jerk reaction by Intel to Athlon 64 FX?
Henri Richard: I think that uh, [laughs] I think that imitation is a great form of flattery and itís very clear that this is a part that they basically put together in a hurry to respond to Athlon FX and itís very clear that it was not on their roadmap and I think we caught them by surprise and like usual when itís a reaction thatís not planned you come out with a pretty unappealing solution and I think thatís the general consensus in the marketplace that the ugh, that product is not a great product.
FiringSquad: Intelís Hyper-Threading technology has lots of promise, but very few applications support it directly. What is your take on this new feature?
Henri Richard: Well I believe that, you know again itís a software issue here. I donít recall [inaudible] 64-bit in Hyper-Threading, not that theyíre exclusive to each other. But weíve chosen the path of 64-bit and thatís the path weíre going to push. I also believe that, well Iím always concerned when marketing comes on top of you know some sort of feature and it confuses people.
I think that representing Hyper-Threading as buying two processors for the price of one is deceiving customers, and thatís not AMDís strategy.
I believe that the future of desktop computing will go with the future of server, which is multi-core processors. There you will have multiple core processors and when you say you have dual processors you really will have two processors and youíll get much better scalability of performance than Hyper-Threading.
Now this being said, you know like any technology weíre looking at it, and itís not that complex of a technology to implement. If customers, if the marketplace finally endorse that technology over multi-core processors then weíll deliver what the customer wants us to do. But at this point in time Iím a believer that 64-bit on one side and multi-core CPUs are approachable relevant to the future of our industry more so than Hyper-Threading.
FiringSquad: So you acknowledge that AMD has looked into multi-core CPUs?
Henri Richard: Well, weíve announced it, but Iím not telling you that tomorrow morning on the desktop that [weíll have it] but we have stated clearly that we are working on multi-core CPUs on Opteron and as you know Opteron, the natural destination of Opteron ends up in the FX range. So itís easy to assess that AMD will announce the official you know, Opteron multi-core product. Sometime down the line later youíll find a multi-core desktop product because itís the same core.
SIDEBAR: Our interview with Epicís Tim Sweeney on 64-bit software.
FiringSquad: What steps are AMD taking to evangelize its 64-bit architecture to game developers?
Henri Richard: Well weíre working hard at, of course, supporting our software ISVs. You know, making sure theyíre very consistent at driving [forward]. One of the things that I think is very interesting is that on one side software developers are ecstatic about 64-bit. They like our 64-bit environment because itís very easy to port to, you donít have to retrain your developers to 64-bit extensions. The 64-bit extensions are really extensions to the 32-bit environment. So unlike other architectures where you have to completely relearn the language and the compiler, building 64-bit software with AMD-64 is very easy.
But on the other hand it is very backward compatible, and so some developers are just taking an easier route, which is instead of optimizing the entire architecture or porting the entire application they are really looking at which DLL in their product, which DLL would really benefit from 64-bit, and you have the ability to go and somewhat optimize that application without completely rewriting it, keeping some parts of the application in 32-bit and just porting the 64-bit, the code that will benefit the most from that 64-bitness.
So on one side we see a lot of excitement, we see people are very happy with the ease of porting. And on the other side weíve got also the path of least resistance, which is well, hereís my 32-bit application it works great so Iím not necessarily in a hurry to port to 64-bit, or, Iím only going to port the pieces that are going to get the most kick in terms of performance and weíll do a full 64-bit application later. Weíre seeing the full spectrum, weíve got software vendors that are very aggressively porting and weíve got the people who are just trying to optimize under the environment and weíve got others that are saying, you know, Iím going to go ahead and certify my 32-bit app because Iím getting great performance from Athlon 64 in 32-bit mode and Iíll do a 64-bit port later.
FiringSquad: Are you seeding developers with hardware, or is, exactly how is the process working?
Henri Richard: We have a lab. Well, thereís different things, of course weíre trying to help software developers with technical support, you know, this type of system and everything thatís standard in the industry in terms of helping software developers support their product.
We also have a lab in Sunnyvale and weíre opening other labs in several locations around the world, where developers can come in and work on our machines and we make them available to them. Itís more relevant to high performance computing, weíre building some very impressive clusters where developers can come and test their code. Then I believe that we also have game development people that are coming in. Weíre also doing a lot of work with the people in the video industry because thatís another area where the AMD-64 architecture is providing some very significant advantages.
We also have a system lab where developers can come and test their code on very large AMD-64 based systems.
FiringSquad: Epic has been pretty vocal about their support for AMD-64, adding 64-bit extensions to Unreal Tournament and using it for development of their next generation game engine. What other game developers are using AMD-64 technology?
Henri Richard: I think developers will move very aggressively into 64-bit because itís such a competitive software industry. I mean itís really cutthroat, and you will see some of the big titles like Unreal, like Far Cry that are going to be out there and people are going to see the improvement in both texture and artificial intelligence that the AMD-64 environment provides and youíll have to switch. So some folks are more aggressive than others, but again as I told you the transition to the 64-bit development environment is so painless, itís really very simple. So my expectation is that by next Christmas all of the key editors, all of the people that really make the game software industry, will have some level of their library of titles that are either optimized or completely ported to AMD-64. I have yet to meet any of the big leaders in the game industry that have turned down the value of AMD-64.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with AMDís Henri Richard, topics discussed include Athlon 64 pricing, AMDís future plans, the 0.09-micron transition next year, and Windows 64-bit! FiringSquad would like to thank Brenda Rarick and Damon Muzny of AMDís PR department for granting us this interview as well as Henri Richard for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat with us for the interview. We asked a lot of questions and he tackled every one of them!
SIDEBAR: Multi-core processors, Hyper-Threading, the Athlon 64 FX versus Pentium 4 Extreme Edition battle Ė there are lots of potential topics to chat about in the news comments!
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