AMD CEO Lisa Su sat down with press, including Gizmodo, yesterday to chat about the company’s CES announcements. The conversation started with a bang, addressing Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s criticisms of AMD less than an hour earlier, then moved to a broad discussion of AMD’s business. Of particular note was the discussion of AMD chips in Windows laptops and future gaming products AMD might be working on.
The latter conversation stemmed from the appearance of Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s executive vice president of gaming, on stage with Su earlier in the day. The two spoke about the partnership AMD and Microsoft have had since at least 2017 with the launch of the Xbox One X. After touting their many partnerships, Spencer, in a mouthful of rah-rah corporate speak, hinted at future consoles:
“And as we look forward to future platforms that we’re building and work that we’re doing, the partnerships and the innovations that we’ve seen in the past, that have led to what we’ve been able to do today I think are going to be critically important to our future endeavours.”
In conversation later, Su was similarly tactful with her words, and while never specifically citing the partnership with Microsoft, she did tease what the future of gaming hardware powered by AMD chips would bring—ray tracing. The ballyhooed tech Nvidia introduced on its new top-of-the-line of cards allows game makers to create much more realistic lighting effects.
One reporter noted that Nvidia has received some criticism for touting ray tracing when there is little software that supports the feature, and asked if it was fair to say AMD was waiting until there was better support.
“I don’t think we should say that we’re waiting,” she said. “I would say that we are deep in development and that development is concurrent between hardware and software.”
She went on to say, “The consumer doesn’t see a lot of benefit today because the other parts of the ecosystem are not ready. I think by the time we talk more about ray tracing, the consumer’s gonna see the benefit.”
It’s worth noting that ray tracing support exists in Windows, and while the selection of games continues to be paltry, there are games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Battlefield V that support the feature.
In other words, the software isn’t so far behind that AMD couldn’t introduce it to interested customers. While there’s some truth to the notion that ray tracing doesn’t quite resonate with customers yet—Nvidia has to educate people on ray tracing every time it mentions the feature—it also feels a little like a stall tactic.
Jumping off another big piece of CES news, Su confirmed big monitors with support for AMD graphics are coming. Really big monitors. This week, HP announced that it’s launching the first 165cm gaming display powered by Nvidia this year. Meanwhile, Samsung’s top-tier TVs already support AMD’s FreeSync technology over HDMI. When asked about this expanding space Su said, “you’ll see some larger monitors and capabilities from us this year.”
You’ll also see some better laptops. Su admits that AMD’s laptop game has not been as strong as its competitor, Intel, which continues to dominate the market for CPUs. She noted AMD was chasing the competition when it first jumped back into the mobile space in early 2018, and it has struggled with educating consumers on its new mobile products. For Su, the problem lies in the sheer number of people who have to be educated.
“Sometimes in the notebook side because you go through so many different people—you go OEM to retail buyer to retailer to the blue shirt in Best Buy that has to explain it to the guy who doesn’t know much about about chips. There’s a lot of people to explain that message to.”
But that was an explanation, not an excuse because Su quickly said, “We have work to do.”
And that work will continue to focus on laptops that are fast, with superior integrated graphics versus Intel. But it won’t focus on making the thinnest and lightest devices.
“I think yes there’s a lot of merit to the fact that people like sleeker form factors and you like to carry something that’s lighter that that has a cooler feel to it, but not at the expense of performance. And so our focus has always been ‘yes, we need to do that. And yes, that means that we might do things differently in packaging and yes, we’ve got to focus on power and power efficiency, but it’s got to have minimum performance.’ We’re not trying, you know, we’re not trying to be a tablet. We’re trying to be the productivity engine.”
AMD announced the second generation of Ryzen processors for mobile this week. This means that while we can expect many more laptops, with a wider variety of designs, AMD will not be in a race with Intel to power the thinnest devices. For AMD, power comes first. And for customers, who might find AMD’s traditionally lower price tag for products appealing, that could be a great deal.