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AMD taps Papermaster as CTO

No stranger to controversy

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Hot potato techie Mark Papermaster has been chosen by Advanced Micro Devices to be its new chief technology officer. The appointment lays to rest speculation on who will be drawing up the company's processor and systems roadmap as the chip maker tries to hang in there against goliath Intel and a slew of ARM upstarts.

Papermaster has bounced between a lot of places in recent years, and is no stranger to Texas-style chip making and a certain amount of controversy. Last November, Papermaster took a position at Cisco Systems as vice-president of silicon engineering after he was blamed for Apple's faulty iPhone 4 antenna design - even though the design predated his departure from IBM and taking a job at Apple in October 2008. Papermaster wasn't even allowed to start work until January 2009 because of a lawsuit filed by IBM, which feared Apple might use his expertise in Power systems to get into the server racket. (Seems absurd, considering that Apple has exited the server racket entirely now.)

Papermaster certainly knew the ins and outs of IBM's Power chip designs and Big Blue was apparently anxious with worry that Apple might create its own Power processors and compete with IBM in some way that was never really explained. This was not entirely unreasonable, given that Apple acquired PA Semi, a maker of energy-efficient Power chip clones and said a month later that it would be designing its own chips for the iPhone and iPad. Everyone assumed these would be Power-based, considering that Apple had more than a decade and a half of writing code for Power-based machines. (It turns out that the A4 and A5 chips from Apple are based on ARM cores.)

Papermaster spent 26 years at IBM and was one of its top Power chip designers; he was vice-president in charge of blade server development when he took the job at Apple.

At AMD, Papermaster will be a senior vice-president in his CTO position, and will report directly to new president and CEO, Rory Read, who is a long-time IBMer after a brief stint at PC maker Lenovo. Read took the top AMD job at the end of August, and a month later, Rick Bergman, who was general manager of AMD's Products Group, was shown the door. At that time, AMD also set up a Commercial Business Division – expressly dedicated to the servers, chipsets, and GPU coprocessors, and embedded systems – and tapped Paul Struhsaker, a chip and server geek from Comcast, Motorola, and Texas Instruments, to lead that division.

The chip engineering teams underneath the just-created Technology and Engineering Group will be led by Chekib Akrout, senior vice-president of research and development at AMD, as they have previously been, but Akrout now reports to Papermaster and will be responsible for the processor core designs and system-on-chip (SoC) designs. It looks like Papermaster will be grabbing the server chip bull by the x86 horns as well as overseeing all product roadmaps and integrating hardware and software development in the x86 ecosystem.

"Mark's appointment significantly strengthens AMD's senior leadership," Read said in a statement. "Mark has held substantial engineering roles for three of the technology industry's most innovative companies. He is a proven winner who knows the industry, knows our customers, and flat out knows technology. The newly created technology and engineering group aligns all of AMD's outstanding technical talent into a centralized team which will improve our time-to-market and help lift our execution across the board. Most importantly, this new organization accelerates our ability to consistently deliver on our customer commitments and help our customers win."

That's a bit of a stretch on the effect that Papermaster had at Apple and Cisco, but he no doubt was effective at IBM. Papermaster takes up his CTO job at AMD on October 24, and just to keep Intel honest and sweating a bit, let's hope this job works out. ®

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