AMD to buy graphics vendor ATI for $8.6 billion

The acquisition would turn AMD into one of the world's largest providers of graphics chips

Advanced Micro Devices has agreed to buy Canadian graphics chip vendor ATI Technologies for US$5.4 billion (NZ$8.6 billion).

AMD sees the merger as a way of offering integrated products for the mobile computing and consumer electronics markets, it says. From 2008, the combined company will develop closely integrated combinations of graphics and processing chips for data, graphics, media and general-purpose applications, says Peter Edinger, ATI’s vice president and managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The platforms will be differentiated by the relative power of the graphics and CPU units, and some may combine the two elements in single-chip products, he says.

The acquisition, which is subject to shareholder and regulatory approvals, would turn AMD into one of the world’s largest providers of graphics chips. ATI reported revenue of US$652.3 million (NZ$1 billion) for the fiscal third quarter, ended May 31. At that time, the company said revenue for the current quarter would be between US$620 million and US$690 million.

In the last fiscal year, a combined AMD and ATI would have made sales of around US$7.3 billion (NZ$11.7 billion), the companies say.

They expect the merger to save them US$75 million in operational costs in the first year and up to US$125 million in the second year, without the need for job cuts. AMD’s chairman and CEO, Hector Ruiz, says he doesn’t expect there to be any layoffs.

ATI and AMD expect to complete the deal in the fourth quarter, subject to the approval of ATI shareholders and US and Canadian regulators.

Ruiz expects the integration of the company to go smoothly. “We have years of experience of working together. We share a common culture,” he says.

Rumours that AMD would buy ATI have circulated for a couple months. If approved, the deal will add significantly to AMD’s product line, bringing in a line-up of cutting-edge graphics chips and chipsets that include integrated graphics capabilities. Chipsets are the component on a PC motherboard that link a processor with main memory and other components, such as a hard disk.

These additions to AMD’s product line will help the company better match rival Intel, which offers its own line of chip sets with graphics capabilities.

The acquisition of ATI will also help AMD compete in the enterprise market, an area where it has lagged behind Intel, says Roger Kay, founder of industry research group Endpoint Technologies Associates. The commercial market represents about two-thirds of the total business, he says.

“Mainly AMD needs a platform to compete against things like Centrino and Viiv and vPro, which are the platforms that Intel has been creating,” says Kay. “AMD was just a processor company.”

AMD will be able to incorporate ATI’s design and fabrication expertise more closely into its production capabilities, says Gordon Haff, a principal analyst with technology research company Illuminata.

Graphics processing is still about crunching data and ATI’s intellectual property could be applied to other forms of co-processing, he says.

“AMD has really moved beyond creating clones of Intel processors,” says Haff.

ATI makes revenue of between US$80 million and US$100 million a quarter, selling integrated graphics chipsets for use on PC motherboards alongside Intel microprocessors, says ATI chief executive officer Dave Orton.

That’s around a seventh of its total business. The company reported revenue of $652 million in the three months to May 31.

As Intel increasingly pushes its own graphics chipsets, AMD isn’t counting on holding on to those sales.

“We are making the prudent assumption that this business will disappear,” says Ruiz. Nevertheless, he expects that motherboard manufacturers who are satisfied with the performance of ATI chips to continue to use them alongside Intel processors. And, of course, AMD will continue to sell the chips for use alongside its own microprocessors.

AMD sees the biggest growth opportunities for microprocessor sales in the market for mobile PCs, says chief financial officer Bob Rivet. Its strength is currently in the server and consumer PC segments, he says.

AMD says the deal doesn’t threaten AMD’s relationship with Nvidia, ATI’s main rival in the graphics space and an important AMD partner, and it has no plans to lock out the company.

“We are going to keep our interfaces open to encourage people to use our platform,” says AMD’s president and chief operating officer, Dirk Meyer, contrasting the approach with that of its main rival Intel.

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