Good And Bad News For AMD

Chipmaker denies rumors of layoffs just as its key 'Barcelona' processor really is finally starting to ship in volume.

AMD has denied published reports that it has cut its workforce in anticipation of another gloomy quarter and declined to comment on how the quarter, which ends in a week, will shape up.

Some reports said AMD (NYSE: AMD) would cut about 5 percent of its workforce, which would translate to around 800 from its staff of 16,000 worldwide. The company refuted this and declined to speculate on what might happen after the first quarter results come out.

"We haven't had a workforce reduction," company spokesman Drew Prairie insisted to "As a matter of policy we don't comment on rumor and speculation on what we may do in the future."

On the plus side, the Quad Core Opteron, a.k.a. Barcelona, is finally shipping. And they mean it this time.

Quad Core Opteron has been delayed numerous times, the most recent due to an errata bug that cropped up just as the chip was to roll out. It was due in early 2007, then delayed until a splashy launch in August 2007, but the rollout didn't really begin until the end of the year -- and then came the errata bug.

AMD initially denied a delay in Quad Core Opteron shipments but later admitted it did delay processor shipments while it fixed the problem. Those new chips, with the B3 revision, are finally shipping in volume next month. HP was the first to jump on the bandwagon, announcing a high-end ProLiant server with eight CPUs.

But that may be too late. At an Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) briefing earlier this week, Senior Vice President Patrick Gelsinger said the chip giant's newest multiprocessor (MP) chip, Tigerton, was doing extremely well. The MP market is defined as servers with four or more processors.

"All the market forecasts would indicate we have the single largest quarter-to-quarter swing in market segment share in the history of the MP marketplace," he said.

Dean McCarron, president of Mercury Research who closely follows the semiconductor markets, said Q1 is traditionally a slow one coming off the big holiday rush, and given the current economic situation, this one looks even softer than usual.

"Most people knew the U.S. economy was going to be on the weak side," he said. "The weakness has spread to other regions, and it may be due to people having uncertainty about the state of their local economy." Europe in particular was suffering from some softness, he said.

But there is good news

The emerging market growth continues to be strong, and that's going to offset some of the economic fallout in the U.S., said John Spooner, senior analyst with Technology Business Research. He noted that AMD has had some pluses this quarter. "Things should start to look up for AMD. They shipped Barcelona, they are shipping triple-core and quad-core Phenoms, too."

Even with its troubles, AMD isn't losing OEM support, according to McCarron. "I don't think you will see OEMs abandoning AMD," he said. "The issue really relates to mix. A Dell or HP or Lenovo has product lines with both [Intel and AMD processors] and can choose which they promote more. They want AMD around."

The question then becomes will CEO Hector Ruiz survive? He signed a five-year contract with AMD when he took the helm as CEO in 2002 and is now on a year-to-year renewal basis, which automatically renewed for 2008 this past December. He has the option to leave, and the board has the option to terminate his contract with 90 days notice on both sides.

Spooner said it could be tough for AMD to let him go because Ruiz handles the company's relationships with its top clients. "He serves as their salesman-in-chief some times. He's really important in terms of making sure AMD has relations with its top customers like HP. It's tough to take AMD's failure on the technical side and place it completely on him," he said.

But one more bad quarter, and investors are going to speak up. Spooner noted that Kevin Rollins was pushed out of Dell, that Chairman Michael Dell didn't want him to leave, and it could happen here, too.

Tags: search, support, chips, Intel, Dell, HP, AMD, policy,

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