AMD’s Neil Spicer on making VR affordable for all

Having launched its 400 Series graphics cards, including the Radeon RX 480, AMD is on a mission to make virtual reality affordable for everyone. Dominic Sacco speaks to EMEA component channel director Neil Spicer about the current state of the PC market, AMD’s upcoming Summit Ridge’ desktop CPU, and what resellers and retailers can do to capitalise on VR.

With PC shipments falling 10 per cent in 2015, what are your thoughts on the current state of the computing market, and where AMD fits into this?

In 2015 the PC market saw more than 270 million units sold, so it is still a very large market and with the evolution in eSports, gaming and the future roadmap of virtual reality, there is a lot more interest from developers to work on the PC. 

We believe this will help drive PC companies and chip designers to continue to push the boundaries of what is possible for a PC. Not only does that mean working to create high-end enthusiast products, but also to bring
a range of products to consumers suitable for a variety of needs and budgets. At AMD we continue to collaborate with industry-leading companies like HP to ensure the platforms we bring to market continue to enhance the PC user’s experience. 

AMD made a loss last year and in Q1 this year. How challenging is the market at the moment – and what are your plans to turn things around? 

We have strengthened the performance of our computing and graphics business in recent quarters, including re-gaining graphics share. Our go-forward plan is focused on delivering our next wave of great products, which starts with our Polaris architecture–based Radeon RX GPUs and will include our upcoming ‘Summit Ridge’ high-end desktop CPU.

How can the Summit Ridge CPU and the Zen architecture help push the computing market forward? 

We’re not revealing much around Zen at the moment but our revolutionary AM4 desktop processor – codenamed ‘Summit Ridge’ – will feature eight cores and 16 threads, and it will be powered by our brand new x86 ‘Zen’ processor core architecture. The Zen core is designed to scale across multiple markets including high-performance desktops, servers, notebooks and embedded solutions. 

For the desktop market, the use of a single scalable socket for AM4 that simplifies our desktop product offerings help make AMD technology more accessible to consumers and system builders than ever before. This also permits key essential technology updates such as DDR4 to be available at the same time. The AM4 desktop platform will support both the Bristol Ridge APU along with the Summit Ridge processors.

You also recently announced 7th gen A-Series mobile APUs. How important is the mobile market to AMD?

We know that consumers want more for their money – sharper graphics, faster performance, and longer battery life. We’ve been working with key OEM partners to develop outstanding platforms that will fully take advantage of the powerful 7th Generation AMD APUs. Being able to offer customers more for their money is what’s important to us, and with the 7th Generation AMD APUs and its 50 per cent improvement in compute performance over the FX part released two years ago, we’re able to power some fantastic systems that will come to market very soon. 

Looking at AMD’s latest graphics cards, the Radeon RX 480 GPU has a $199 starting price point in the US. What was the thinking behind that and can it expand the TAM (total addressable market) for virtual reality?

Currently there are only about 13 million PCs in the world that are VR capable. We decided to bring new technology to the market that could lower the cost of the VR PC to the point that everybody could afford a VR capable system. The Radeon RX 480 brings the VR-capable GPU cost from $300 to $400 down to $199, which is game-changing. We are also pleased now be supporting for DirectX 12 with LiquidVR, allowing the CPU requirement for a VR ready system to be reduced, helping to lower the total system cost. 

How is virtual reality changing the industry? How can resellers and retailers capitalise on this new and exciting growth area?

VR is going to be a really disruptive and transformative technology that will change every aspect of our lives. Everything from gaming to video to real estate and travel, they are all going to be changed. You will no longer just be the spectator but you will actually be a part of the action. For instance, companies will be able to produce virtual health and safety training videos for their staff. Content like this can help businesses reduce risk involved in employee training while maintaining the experience and lessons that can be learned from it. 

Resellers and retailers need to be able to identify the many different users of VR, not just the gamers, and be able to produce a range of affordable systems that are VR capable. Whether it’s selling upgrades to PCs, headsets or content, the actual go-to-market plans are still not firm for the channel. As we see the cost of entry become lower, through new lower priced graphic solutions and eventually the headsets dropping in price over time, the adoption and TAM for VR can become even larger. With this opens new opportunities in addition to graphics cards and PCs.

You also have the Radeon RX 460 and 470. What kind of an impact do you hope the AMD 400-Series will have on the market?

There are hundreds of millions of gamers that are using outdated technology. We wanted to change that and bring enthusiast level performance to a much more mainstream price. We have just released our premium VR graphics card, the Radeon RX 480, at a starting price of SEP $199 in the US. Joining the RX family will be the newly announced RX 470 graphics card that delivers power efficient HD gaming, and the Radeon RX 460, a cool and efficient solution for the ultimate eSports experience.

Speaking of eSports, AMD has made inroads into that growing sector. Tell us about your strategy here, which teams you support and what your plans are within eSports?

eSports in an incredibly exciting opportunity for us and we currently sponsor two world-class eSport teams. In January this year we announced our sponsorship of Fnatic’s EU League of Legends team. In May, we announced our sponsorship of Evil Geniuses’ DOTA 2 team. We believe that eSports pros need the best hardware available and need to be able to rely on it. 

Our Radeon graphics cards and A8 and A10 APUs offer outstanding reliability and world-class performance for eSports. In 2015 there were 112 major eSports events with a global eSports audience of 226 million gamers. The LCS final of League of Legends saw 36 million unique viewers tune in and watch. To put that into perspective, the men’s final at Wimbledon in 2015 drew in only 9.2 million unique viewers. 

We’re now seeing the expansion of eSports from online to mainstream media with Sky broadcasting a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament on Sky 2 back in March. This is an important audience for, us as the average eSports viewer skews towards consumers that are major spenders on hardware, games and digital media subscriptions.

What do you think the future holds for the future of tech and computing? How will the IT channel change further?

There has never been a more exciting time in the 15 years I have worked in tech. We have seen the evolution of graphical horsepower over the years driving incredible advancements in gaming. We are now in a new generation where things like VR and AR (augmented reality) play a huge part if the future of tech. This is continuing to drive software and hardware engineers at AMD to build world-class products.

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