AMD to buy graphics vendor ATI

AMD to buy graphics vendor ATI

AMD to buy graphics vendor ATI


AMD is to buy Canadian graphics chip vendor ATI Technologies for about US$5.4 billion in cash and stock.

AMD sees the merger as a way to offer 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 (central processing unit), and some may combine the two elements into 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 net income of US$31.9 million on revenue of US$652.3 million during its fiscal third quarter, which ended on 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, the companies said.

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

AMD chairman and chief executive officer Hector Ruiz says he expects the integration of the company to go smoothly: "We have years of experience 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 chip sets that include integrated graphics capabilities. Chip sets 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 help AMD compete in the enterprise market, an area where it has lagged behind Intel, says Roger Kay, founder of Endpoint Technologies Associates, a computer industry research group. 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," Kay says. "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 Illuminata, a technology research company.

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," Haff says.

ATI makes revenue of between US$80 million and US$100 million a quarter selling integrated graphics chip sets 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 total revenue of US$652 million in the three months to May 31.

As Intel increasingly pushes its own graphics chip sets, AMD isn't counting on holding onto those sales. "We are making the prudent assumption that this business will disappear," Ruiz says. Nevertheless, he says, he expects motherboard manufacturers who are satisfied with the performance of ATI chips will 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 opportunities for future growth in microprocessor sales in the market for mobile PCs, chief financial officer Bob Rivet says. Its strength is currently in the server and consumer PC segments, he says.

AMD officials say 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 president and chief operating officer Dirk Meyer, contrasting the approach with that of main rival Intel.

AMD will take on new debt of around US$2.5 billion to finance the deal. ATI has agreed to pay AMD a termination fee of US$162 million if it backs out. The cash deal may have been favoured by ATI since AMD's stock price has fallen, Kay says.

(Jeremy Kirk in London contributed to this report.)

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