AMD’s EMEA general manager Darren Grasby talks to Dominic Sacco about how it’s pushing the APU market forward with its A-Series Kaveri tech

AMD: ‘This is the best APU technology we’ve ever built’

AMD’s EMEA general manager Darren Grasby talks to Dominic Sacco about how it’s pushing the APU market forward with its A-Series Kaveri tech, how desktops are still going strong, its revised partner programme and activities in the education sector…

What kind of reaction have you seen to your new A-Series Kaveri Accelerated Processing Units (APUs)? How is that pushing the market forward?

Darren Grasby, AMD: What we’re seeing is that people are truly realising the benefits of an APU. If you look about what the recent marketing programmes have done, what we are seeing is the education around the APU is really accelerating. People are now understanding exactly what an APU is.

While most of the industry and tech-savvy individuals understand it, by the time you get to those local system builders and independents, it’s now clear that the knowledge is also getting down to those tens of thousands of resellers and retailers too. So the programme is definitely having an effect there.

People are understanding the Kaveri technology is by far the best technology that we’ve ever built around the APU. If you talk about a 12-core product in four CPU cores and eight compute cores [rather than traditionally splitting the CPU and GPU up], that’s starting to resonate now, which is great news for us and for the usage of the PC today. 

Can we expect more Kaveri chips in the future?

That’s the plan. Obviously I can’t tell you about future roadmaps, but Kaveri has just been unbelievable. If I take you into the consumer notebook side of the business, the demand on that product has been very, very good indeed.

Rumours suggest AMD is readying its fifth generation APU, Carrizo, which will support DDR4. Are you excited by DDR4 and how will that shape the market in the future?

I think it’s a very interesting play and I think with any new technology that’s coming along, if it’s enhancing the customer experience then it has to be good for the industry. That will be where the idea of DDR4 starts to get exciting for me.

How important is the education market to AMD? 

It’s quite interesting because there was a poll that just came out in the US [showing that 85 per cent of US students aged 18 to 26 own a laptop and say it’s their device of choice for learning – ahead of smartphones and tablets.]

This poll firmly pointed out for me the need for a productivity, creativity and connection device. That’s really going to drive the awareness around our APUs, in both laptops and small form factor desktops, and we’re very excited about that.

Are you involved with schools at all?

We do bits and pieces mainly around the enterprise and commercial side of our business. We have had some great wins at the University of Frankfurt, but this was more around HPC and server infrastructures in and around the universities. So it’s more on that side than it is from an individual device to a student.

We’re involved in many tenders across the whole region. I think the biggest one at the moment is the Ministry of Education in Turkey, where we put out a tender to put whiteboards into 400,000 classrooms across the whole of Turkey.

That’s an embedded win for us, because the interactive white board for the classroom has got our A10 technology in there.

How do you think technology will change schools in the future?

We’re just looking at universities for my eldest son at the moment, and I was talking to a lecturer a couple of weeks ago – he was saying that classroom time hours have been reduced significantly from five years ago because students have got access to all the content within the service of the university. So I do believe it will change. However, I think that there’s always going to be a need for human interaction, human debate, and I think that will form the basis of traditional education. However, as more and more students get connected through a smartphone, tablet or a notebook, I do believe that the education demands around sitting in a classroom will change.

There are mixed reports around desktop PC sales, with analysts suggesting sales are down but gaming system builders seeing growth. 

What are you seeing at AMD?

It’s interesting because the market keeps saying desktops are down, but consumer notebooks have been down significantly more. If you look over the last 18 months, consumer notebooks have been down in some countries as much as 30 to 40 per cent or so.

Ironically, the desktop business, whilst it’s down 10 per cent year-on-year, it’s still fairly stable, and what we’re seeing is the market plateauing around desktops.

But again I think there’s a combination of factors that are behind that. The first one is around gaming machines, as we further accelerate our graphic offerings for example with the 295 X2 and the 290Xs, because we have got leadership in performance graphics, that is helping the performance desktop market.

XP support being turned off is also driving desktop sales, no doubt at all. And then the third thing is, there seems to be more of a home personal cloud environment going on at the moment. In a sense, some people are still reluctant to connect themselves up into the cloud, for example a desktop that is sitting in the home that is streaming off and connecting the various different devices that the average home has. But we’re starting to see some of that come through now.

AMD has recently revamped its partner programme. What kind of reaction have you seen to that and what’s next for it?

It’s been huge. If you go off and talk to customers, you’ll notice the consumerisation that’s gone on across the marketplace. Going back ten years ago, you had specific distribution partners that just did distribution in components for example, or you had traditional bricks and mortar retailers and then obviously there was the emergence of e-tail.

Now some of the channel customers in places like Russia and Eastern Europe, they’re bricks and mortar retailers, they have got their etail business and their distribution business and they’re also system builders. So we have some customers that fall within all four tracks in our partner programme.

In many ways I think the markets are more diverse now compared to five or even three years ago. Western European partners need support that is very different to Eastern European partners. And then when you head into the Middle East and Africa, the demands of the customer are different to the other two markets.

So I must say the feedback we’ve been getting on our programme – for all those markets – has been absolutely tremendous. 

What products should we look out for from AMD over the next 12 months?

If you think about what we’ve been saying around APUs, we’ve just released Kaveri, which is the most complex APU we’ve ever built.

As a company we’re driving very, very hard around compute and using the graphics cores for the main engine of PCs. So we’ll be continuing to drive the APU message with our graphics technology at the core of that.

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