A few weeks ago, I had a chance to meet with Hector Ruiz, the chief executive officer of Advanced Micro Devices; the perennial also ran of the microprocessor business. It was a wide-ranging discussion that covered topics such as the future of the personal computer, Linux and yes the upcoming Hammer processors. In less than 72 hours the company is going to introduce its new Hammer/Opteron processors, which are likely to revive the flagging fortunes of the company, and I thought it was an opportune time to post this interview. Here are excerpts from that interview:
OM: We have had quite severe downturn in the personal computer business, and sales have slowed. To me it seems like the personal computer has matured and needs to reinvent itself. What are your thoughts?
Hector Ruiz (HR): Most people’s notion of a personal computer is that of a black or an aluminum box that runs (Microsoft) Office. But I think that notion is quite rapidly changing and the personal computer is becoming more ubiquitous device with various different segmentations. I think we are already playing around with the idea of personal computer as the hub, a control center for home entertainment and communications.
OM: How will the PC evolve? Segmentation?
HR: I think we will go from the high-end workstations to scaled-down portable devices, which will become more pervasive. The PC is morphing into a machine for everybody.
OM: But PC of today is a really boring and unimaginative device. In order to jump-start the industry we need something more? like many variations of TV makes a consumer choose one over the other. Shouldn’t something similar happen in the PC space as well?
HR: Traditional personal computers we know of today lack the creativity to approach this from a user’s perspective. (Apple being the only exception) They have not done anything to fix this. But there are a lot of little companies which are doing interesting things with this x86 architecture especially in the home entertainment and digital audio arenas. There is work being done by people who are thinking outside the box and are doing creative things with this.
OM: What is the future of the x86 architecture?
HR: The x86 architecture is very strong and it is difficult for me to imagine that its role is going to diminish over next ten years. In the 1980s there was a belief that RISC’s simplicity would help it win the battle over the more complex CISC processors. Frankly the progress in technology has made CISC evolve to become more RISC like and very efficient. It is hard to imagine if there are any limitations to this architecture for next ten years.
I think x86 is like the phone line and will continue to influence the technology. Less complex devices like cellular phones are going to be x86 compatible. I think embedded computing will going to extend (this) x86 architecture into less complicated devices. Our plan is to evolve and increase AMD’s footprint in the hardware business — from the very high end of computing to the very low end of computing.
OM: How is AMD doing this?
HR: We have developed our Alchemy-chip, which can be used in a personal digital assistant/cell phone and many other devices. X-Box is another example of embedded x86 computing. Tablet PC is another example. I would like to see the other devices become a bulk of our revenue. Right now PC makes up most of our revenues. I think in five years applications (nearly) 90 percent applications are going to be PC-like applications.
OM: AMD has been a big backer of Linux and the open source community has responded favorably. Was this a conscious decision?
HR: I am a firm believer in the open source philosophy. I think it is a scary thought to some but we move faster by going open source. We are moving in that direction. I believe that the architecture that we have created has a tremendous appeal to the Linux community. Linux runs well on Alchemy and our other chips. AMD is betting the farm on Linux and Windows. With all due respect to others, these are the Operating Systems’ that matter.
OM: What areas of technology have lagged in your opinion?
HR: Voice recognition (is a technology) that has been lagging and I think keyboard is one of the drawbacks right now. I think voice recognition is going to make personal computer friendlier to the consumer.
OM: So where do you see the innovation happening?
HR: I think we are going to see the productization of molecular electronics very soon and voice recognition is going to become far more real. I think the biggest innovations are going to result from the human genome with high performance computing.
OM: You have been a big proponent of broadband and have often said that it is going to be the key catalyst for technology sector revival. Can you expand on it more?
HR: I think pseudo smart wireless devices coupled with broadband and video are going to happen very soon. I think with large databases and pervasive broadband, new applications are going to be born, especially as we move from 32-bit computing to 64-bit computing.
OM: Which brings us to my last question — what are your thoughts on Moore’s Law and the industry obsession with it?
HR: Moore’s Law makes common sense but what does it have to do with the real world. People are focusing too much on the Moore’s Law and not enough on the customer’s needs. I think it is important to focus on Metcalfe’s Law — that is more relevant.