Keller is the rare chip architect who has been involved in several of the most groundbreaking chip designs of modern electronics, leading teams that revolutionized chip performance at companies such as Apple and Advanced Micro Devices. He joined Intel’s Silicon Engineering Group as a senior vice president in 2018 in an attempt to help turn around Intel’s lagging designs.
Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said in a message, “Jim Keller is a rock star and Intel is losing a great architect. Historically, Keller has left after a specific milestone like he did at Apple, Tesla and AMD. I don’t have insights into his personal reasons for leaving but I hope he’s OK. For Intel, the company has a deep bench and it’s a place architects want to work.”
A long career
Keller is not a publicity seeker, but he has had a remarkable career as a chip architect. He started at Digital Equipment Corp., where he played a role in the 1990s design of the DEC Alpha processors.
In 1998, he moved to AMD, where he worked on the Athlon (K7) processor and led the K8 project that disrupted Intel’s 64-bit Itanium chips and gave AMD its first foothold in the lucrative market for server chips. Then, in 1999 — as the dotcom bubble was growing — he left for startup SiByte, which Broadcom acquired in 2000 for $2 billion in stock. When the bubble collapsed, so did the value of that deal and Broadcom’s own hypergrowth.
In 2004, Keller moved on to head engineering at P.A. Semi, a startup focused on mobile processors. Then he moved to Apple in early 2008. Apple also bought the P.A. Semi team, which went to work on the A series processors for iPhones. That was part of Steve Jobs’ strategy to become independent from chip makers, and it turned out to be a brilliant move that saved Apple billions of dollars.
In 2012, Keller sensed a shift coming again. Advances in PC processors were slowing. He rejoined AMD to lead a new microarchitecture, dubbed Zen. AMD launched the first chips based on Zen in 2017, and for the first time in years the company is rapidly gaining share on Intel. In 2015, Keller left AMD and joined Tesla to work on autopilot engineering for the company’s electric cars.
Starting in 2018, Keller’s goal at Intel was to help streamline product development and get the company back into the top position in designs. As a result of his departure, Intel realigned its top chip design staff.
Sundari Mitra, the former CEO and founder of NetSpeed Systems, will lead a newly created IP Engineering Group. Gene Scuteri will head the Xeon and Networking Engineering Group. Daaman Hejmadi will lead the Client Engineering Group focused on system-on-chip (SoC) execution. And Navid Shahriari will lead the Manufacturing and Product Engineering Group.
Keller has agreed to serve as a consultant for Intel for six months to assist with the transition.