Why the AMD keynote at CES was what it was

Why the AMD keynote at CES was what it was

So, just like many of you guys I watched the AMD keynote, and I was also watching some commentaries as the livestream went on. What I saw in the commentaries though was a whole lot of “wtf why are you talking about this?” and “come on show us the product” comments. While these were understandable from an enthousiast/gamer perspective, I’d like to explain why the keynote was what it was to hopefully give you all a better understanding of what transpired.

First thing to understand is what the target audience for keynotes like these are. As much as you’d like to hope it is, they are very much not made for average consumers like us. Keynotes at big events like these are primarily made for investors and potential large corporate customers and partners.

See, AMD had a couple of things they had to prove and showcase here

  • Being able to compete with Intel in the CPU market

  • Being able to compete with nVidia in the GPU market

  • Having a clear path to increasing market share in existing market areas

  • Expanding into new and emerging market areas

And they did exactly that.

Now, let’s break down the presentation, you can rewatch it here

16:30 – Introduction by Gary Shapiro

This is the general “look guys, we’re important, some important guy from another big company is introducing us”. Yes, it’s boring, but it’s there to prove a point that AMD is now one of the big boys again. The introduction even emphasises that this is AMD’s first time having such a keynote at CES

20:58 – Lisa Su’s opening presentation

This starts off with the usual “look where we came from and look where we are now” spiel to please investors and give the entire keynote some initial forward momentum.

She gives some initial hooks here that they keynote will try to build further on, such as pointing out what the projected growing demand for compute will be, then following up by essentially saying “we have answers for all of this”. This is a flag again for investors and partners: the market will change, and we’re the partner for you to face this challenge.

29:30 – High Performance PCs

This part of the presentation is mainly about content creators, which is why Threadripper takes center stage. This part build on from the introduction to expand on just how they have changed the market in the last 2 years and how they have made inroads in the existing, and quite lucrative, creators market. This is why they have those guys from Fox VFX talking, they want to show they have actual big customers using their product, which pleases investors and can get them potentially more customers, as this is a market where having references is a big thing.

As a sidenote, it’s funny that she makes it sound like Threadripper was a planned product from the start, while we all know that Threadripper was a passion project by AMD engineers who basically went “hey, we have EPYC, maybe we can make a HEDT platform out of this too?”.

35:35 – Ultrathin notebooks

This part exists to showcase “hey guys, we HAVE made great inroads in the mobile market, contrary to what you might have thought”. Intel and Microsoft has also redoubled their efforts to make laptops relevant again in this modern tablet and mobile dominated market. This is why she points to the Modern Windows PC initiative. The showcase here is “we’re not missing this boat now that we actually have something that is competitive”. She ends this part with again showcasing they already have partners with products lined up, a flag for investors.

39:31 – PCs for education

This part is to showcase they have products to make inroads in the education market. Education is a BIG market. Depending on the area they either need powerful devices (STEM, research) or cheap devices (Chromebooks).

43:07 – Gaming : Microsoft

This part is to showcase their existing partnership with large players. Why Microsoft is here and not say, Sony, is that Microsoft represents 3 markets for them: console gaming (XBox One), PC gaming (Windows) and cloud gaming (Azure). Cloud gaming is an emerging market and is expected to grow significantly. It’s another investor hook to show “look, we have a great installed base, and we’re making great inroads into new market areas, which will lead to future growth of the company”.

51:00 – GPU technology retrospective

This part is again a recap of what they have already created. It exists to emphasise their current market positioning and market share (which is again, a flag for investors and potential partners), and serves as a jump-off point for the next part.

53:40 – Radeon VII, part 1

The Radeon VII exists because they had to present something that could go toe to toe with the nVidia RTX2080. That was the only thing that mattered. This is emphasised by the comparison charts she projects. The game demo is a bit lame, but it just serves to showcase “we’re not making this up, it does perform”, and serves as a hook for the later “yeah it’s 699, but you’re getting games with it! So it’s really not that bad!”.

Ubisoft is on there, talking about how they are partnering in development with AMD. The hook here is to show that AMD is still closely working with game developers, and that it’s not just nVidia being the only one calling the shots.

1:06:13 – eSports

Intermezzo. eSports is a decently big enough market to warrant another “hey guys, we’re in this as well” showcase. Again, investor and partner hook. The guy from Fenetic is there to just drive the point home.

1:12:40 – Radeon VII, part 2

The pricetag is dropped: 699, but with game bundled. Yes, we (as gamers/enthousiast) all were dissapointed by this.

But, if I can make a sidestep here to explain why AMD made this move. As I mentioned: they had to have something to compete with the nVidia RTX 2080. But, the thing is, this is actually a really niche part of the market. Most of the market is in the RX560/GTX1050Ti range. When it came to raw specs, they had a product that would fit : the Radeon Instinct MI50, as it is based on 7nm Vega. But, the MI50 is a datacenter part, and is manufacturerd with 16GB of HBM2. Remember, this comes as one big package, to make an 8GB variant they’d have to create a whole new package. So AMD is faced with a choice

  • Don’t compete with the RTX 2080

  • Create a new 8GB package

  • Use the existing 16GB package from the MI50

First one is not an option if they don’t want to fall flat for their investors. Second one doesn’t really have enough volume behind it to make any kind of positive business case, so all that was left was the third option. But, they can’t quite sell these cards at a loss, so they were pretty much forced to use the 699 price tag. Is there some margin to lower the price later? Of course there is, but not enough margin to start the price off at 649 or lower.

The Radeon VII really is their “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” GPU.

Will it sell? Of course it will, those who really want a 7nm Vega will buy it anyway, those people were clamoring for it loud enough. Will it sell in high volumes? We’ll have to see.

1:13:34 – Cloud gaming

Another partner and investor hook showing how they’re making inroads in this emerging market with their product stack. They showcase Google Project Stream, because hey, Google is a big partner to be able to show you’re doing business with.

1:16:30 – High Performance Computing : AMD EPYC server CPUs

This reiterates what they already have in the pipeline for the datacenter world. Yes, it’s CES, and the C stands for Consumer, but remember, investors and partners, and many of those partners will also be interested in servers.

She drops here that 2nd gen EPYC will launch mid 2019. This simultaneously shows that their product is nearing completion (in the server world, 6 months is nothing), but also is a small hint for what she will say in the next part.

1:24:57 – 3rd Generation Ryzen based on Zen 2

Here they had to showcase they were able to compete with Intel. Zen2 for desktop is still on engineering samples, but they had to showcase it (again, investors and partners), and they needed to show they could go toe to toe with the best Intel had to offer right now. And they did, even showcasing they did it for less power draw. The demo was simple, but it sufficiently drove the point home that she had to make.

Showing the delidded CPU was also an obvious hook to what is to come. We saw the IO die, we saw one 8 core chiplet, and we saw there is enough room on there for another component, be it another core chiplet or a GPU. This is deliberately done at the end of the presentation to end on a note that will get everyone hyped again for the possibilities of 16C/32T CPUs and 8C/16T APUs. It also served to soften the dissapointment of a mid 2019 launch. This mid 2019 launch window matches the 2nd gen EPYC launch window she mentioned early, pointing out to investors and partners that this is just the timeframe that is needed to get Zen 2 to the neccesary maturity level for a succesful product launch.

1:31:52 – Closing off the keynote

A recap of what was shown, and a re-emphasis that AMD is investing in what is needed.

To cap off my post

Well, this is probably the longest post I’ve ever written. It’s based on my experience in the corporate world and with these kinds of presentations (I tend to go to some of these events for my job, so I knew what to expect of these kinds of keynotes).

I should note I originally posted this on /r/amd but the content was shadowremoved there for some reason.

submitted by /u/Jack_BE to r/hardware
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