AMD Has Gone From Scrappy to Sad

Confession: Back when AMD was pitching its Opteron chipset, I convinced my husband to buy shares in the company on the belief that its plans to build a backwards compatible 64-bit processor was so obviously better than Intel’s efforts with Itanium that the market would eventually see it. The market did, and AMD shares went up a bit, but we soon sold them after my company changed its policy regarding stock ownership.

I say this so you guys know that I once believed in AMD. I live in Austin, where the company at one time employed more workers than in its Sunnyvale headquarters. Where Hector Ruiz, who stepped down today from the president and CEO position, lives. But I look at the sad wreck that was once a scrappy upstart irritating Intel and I don’t know what to say. I can start with the facts.

Ruiz will remain as executive chairman of the company and Dirk Meyer, the former COO and president, will become the CEO and president. Ruiz had already named Meyer as his successor, but Ruiz had also said he would stay through 2008. But AMD had seven quarters of losses and wrote down $878 million last week (for a total loss this quarter of $1.2 billion).

Meanwhile, Meyer will preside over the sale of some of AMD’s consumer assets, as announced in the company’s fourth-quarter conference call on Thursday. These assets should include some of the non-core assets related to mobile and digital television AMD purchased as part of its ATI acquisition in 2006. Those are the facts.

Looking at those facts, and the string of things that have gone wrong, from delays with its Barcelona chip to the loss of its CTO earlier this year, and you have to wonder if Meyer, or anyone inside the company should really be the one to take over. Ruiz and Meyer are both known more for their engineering talents than their business ones, which may be one of the reasons AMD held onto non-core divisions for so long. I suppose I should stop caring. After all, it’s been years since I held stock in AMD, and it gets old rooting for the underdog.