Ex-Intel and AMD Chip Guru Jim Keller Joins AI Startup Tenstorrent

By Paul Alcorn

Jim Keller and Raja Koduri

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Jim Keller, a famed chip architect with notable stints at Intel, AMD, and Tesla, has joined AI chip startup Tenstorrent as President, CTO, and board member. Keller previously worked with Tenstorrent founder Ljubisa Bajic at AMD and personally provided the first funding for the startup.     

Keller is known as a leader of transformational efforts during his storied past at several leading semiconductor firms, with his most recent position at Intel following the same trajectory. Keller joined Intel in 2018 and, in tandem with Raja Koduri and Murthy Renduchintala, was responsible for designing a new six pillar strategy meant to help the company recover from an extended period of roadmap delays

In a move seen by many as a sign that Intel's efforts to get back on track had stalled, Keller left Intel for personal reasons in June 2020 with plans to serve a six-month stint as a consultant to help the company transition to a new leadership team. Shortly thereafter, Intel announced that its 7nm process was delayed to such an extent that, for the first time, the company might have to turn to outside foundries to help produce its core logic devices. Keller's former boss, Murthy Renduchintala, was ousted a few days later.  

With Keller's six-month consulting agreement with Intel now apparently over, he has now joined the Tenstorrent team. The AI chip startup, based in Toronto, Canada, is designing new Grayskull inference processors for image recognition and voice processing tasks. Tenstorrent's approach melds high-performance inference processors with a new approach that uses AI to optimize low-level software functions, thus unlocking higher levels of speed and efficiency in an approach known as Software 2.0. 

“Software 2.0 is the largest opportunity for computing innovation in a long time. Victory requires a comprehensive re-thinking of compute and low level software,” Keller said. “Tenstorrent has made impressive progress, and with the most promising architecture out there, we are poised to become a next gen computing giant.”

Keller had previous jobs at Tesla, where he served as the Vice President of Autopilot and Low Voltage Hardware, helped architect the Zen microarchitecture while he was AMD's corporate vice president and chief cores architect, and is also famous for designing AMD's successful K7 (Athlon) and K8 architectures. AMD's canceled K12 uArch was another of Keller's more famous projects, and he has also worked for Apple, helping develop the A4 and A5 processors.

Keller is known for relatively short tenures at companies, typically leading turnaround efforts for roughly three years before moving on to other challenges. His time at Intel, where he served as Intel's senior vice president in the Technology, Systems Architecture and Client Group and general manager of the Silicon Engineering Group, was notably shorter at roughly two years.