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Father of Athlon 64 leaves AMD

Fred Weber, the bearded executive behind the chipmaker's revival, is heading out to invest in start-ups.

Fred Weber, the chief technology officer at Advanced Micro Devices and one of the executives often cited as being behind the company's turnaround, is leaving to invest in start-ups.

Meanwhile, Phil Hester, who co-founded Opteron server manufacturer Newisys and spent more than two decades at IBM, will be taking over the CTO spot at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD. Hester starts Monday.

The departure is amiable, according to AMD and one analyst, and probably not much will change with AMD's technological direction.

Phil Hester, AMD's new CTO
Phil Hester,
AMD's new CTO

"The fundamental architecture and building blocks are right," said Hester, who's also no stranger to the company. Besides helping found Newisys, he negotiated with AMD when IBM was considering using the former's K-6 processor.

Weber, who majored in physics at Harvard, has been one of AMD's most prominent executives over the last several years. He lead the team that developed the architecture for the Opteron and Athlon 64 chips. These chips were the first based around the pervasive x86 architecture that could process both 32-bit and 64-bit software.

Opteron and Athlon64 also feature an input-output technology known as HyperTransport, which has helped boost the performance of these chips over processors with more conventional buses.

Since the debut of Opteron in April 2003, AMD's fortunes have changed substantially. It has landed deals to supply server chips to Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun Microsystems and others. Large corporations have begun to install Opteron-based servers as well.

Some large companies are even debating whether to adopt AMD-based notebooks. Before these chips, AMD mostly sold processors into the consumer and small-business markets.

With the success of the chip family, Weber became a regular speaker at semiconductor conferences. In the past year and a half, Weber has been behind AMD's push into chips for consumer electronics.

Before AMD, Weber worked at start-ups, including Encore Computer and Kendall Square Research. Leaving AMD will let Weber return to that environment, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64.

"He had a pretty good relationship with Dirk Meyer (AMD's No. 2 exec). It is hard to say who precisely was behind the (Athlon 64) development, but Fred certainly was a big contributor," said Brookwood. "Most of the technology changes that AMD has made while he was there turned out to be good ones."

AMD also recently hired another former IBMer, Jeff VerHeul, to head its processor design efforts.