Intel has hired Raja Koduri, the chief architect of archrival Advanced Micro Devices, to lead its new core and visual computing business. The unit will make discrete graphics chips for personal computers, data centers, and devices that could include security cameras and sensors.
Koduri is one of the high priests of graphics chip design. For the last two years he helped revitalize AMD's entire portfolio of Radeon graphics chips to compete with Nvidia in personal computers and data centers. Before that, he served as Apple's director of graphics architecture, where he led the shift to Retina computer displays.
“Raja is one of the most experienced, innovative, and respected graphics and systems visionaries in the industry,” said Venkata Renduchintala, Intel's chief engineering officer and client computing president, in a statement. “We have exciting plans to aggressively expand our computing and graphics capabilities,” he added.
Koduri's hiring is an unusually direct assault on Nvidia, which holds around 80% of the market for discrete graphics chips. Koduri may enlist other engineers from AMD and Nvidia, whose chips contain thousands of cores that run mathematical operations in parallel to render video games, visualizing products, or mine cryptocurrencies.
Nvidia's graphics chips are the current standard for training neural networks used for tricky tasks like grasping human speech and recognizing images. Intel is trying to pry into Nvidia's silicon stronghold as more corporations plan to start using artificial intelligence to guide decision-making. AMD has also prepared a graphics unit for deep learning called Instinct.
Last year, Intel acquired a new type of server chip for the training phase of deep learning from Nervana Systems and hired its founder Naveen Rao to run its artificial intelligence unit. It plans to start shipping the chip before the end of the year targeting companies like Google, Microsoft, and their Chinese rivals that buys truckloads of silicon for data centers that they rent out over the cloud.
Intel's Movidius unit also sells a line of chips called Myriad X to run software trained in the cloud locally inside drones and cameras that decide when to take snapshots. The company offered a helping hand with the image processing unit in Google's Pixel 2 phone and it is also supplying silicon for self-driving car systems.
It is not yet clear how the Koduri’s core and visual computing business would fit with these other efforts. Intel stumbled in its previous attempt to sell graphics chips based on its Larrabee architecture, which it shuttered in 2010. And it will likely take several years for the first product to emerge from Koduri’s division.
Along with Koduri's role, Intel recently revealed that it commissioned AMD for a custom graphics unit, which it plans to package with its computer chips next year for gaming laptops. Since 2010, Intel has seared graphics into the same semiconductor dies as its computer chips for personal computers. But the new product built with AMD shows that Intel is trying to sink its teeth into Nvidia's discrete graphics business, which still accounts for most of its revenue.
Koduri served as chief technology officer of AMD's graphics division for eight years before Apple poached him. In 2013, he rejoined the Sunnyvale, California-based company as part of chief executive Lisa Su's plot to balance out its finances and return its products to relevance again. He served under chief technology officer Mark Papermaster.
“I am incredibly excited to join the Intel team and have the opportunity to drive a unified architecture vision,” Koduri said in a statement, adding that he was eager to help Intel "accelerate the data revolution.” He will officially start at Intel next month.