It's a Good Year for Asparagus: Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Celebrates 50 Years As an Independent Computer Chip Supplier
Bob Noyce said that it took [Intel] five minutes to raise $5 million - well, it took me five million minutes to raise five dollars . . . But I was dogged about it. I knew I had a story. I knew we could make money.1 W. J. Sanders III (1985)
On May 1, 2019, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is set to celebrate its 50th anniversary as an important supplier of advanced semiconductor devices. AMD's survival as the only Silicon Valley computer chip manufacturer other than Intel to reach its golden anniversary as an independent company is an extraordinary achievement for an underdog considered least likely to succeed by industry pundits in the 1970s.
Today AMD is a multinational company based in Santa Clara, California, and Austin, Texas, that develops computer processors and related devices for business and consumer markets. Fiscal 2018 revenues were $6.48 billion.
The story of the early years of a brash, under-funded startup led by the charismatic and flamboyant founder W. J. “Jerry” Sanders III, its legendary battles with Intel, and multiple starring roles as the industry's come-back kid are well documented in the press and in first-person accounts listed in the resources at the end of this article. Veteran Silicon Valley chronicler Michael S. Malone describes it as “one of the great tours-de-force in business, nearly on a level with Lee Iacocca a few years later at Chrysler.”
Early on AMD engaged Keye/Donna/Pearlstein, later to become one of the most creative advertising firms in Los Angeles, to create a media campaign to complement its aggressive sales and marketing persona. The examples of print and promotional programs from the 1970s and 80s reproduced here display AMD's confident sense of self combined with often humorous but informative content and always a dash of the “charm, swagger and wit [of the] bigger-than-life Jerry Sanders.”
In full disclosure: Beginning in 1975, the author spent 12 of the most rewarding years of his professional life at AMD in roles from marketing manager to vice president of business development. Thank you, Jerry Sanders for creating an extraordinary place to work and grow. To Steve Zelencik for his many years of mentoring and support and also for donating his collection of AMD advertisements, several of which are used in this article, and other documents to the Computer History Museum (CHM). And to John Springer, keeper of the FLAMES website and archive for Former Loyal Advanced Micro Employees.
- Michael S. Malone, The Big Score, Doubleday (1985).
- AMD 22V10 Programmable Array Login (PAL) development team: oral history panel. Computer History Museum (2012)
- AMD 2900 Microprocessor family oral history panel. Computer History Museum (2009)
- John East oral history. Computer History Museum (2016)
- Jeffrey L. Rodengen, The Spirit of AMD, Write Stuff (1998)
- Interview with W. J. Sanders, Silicon Genesis, Stanford University (2002)
- George Scalise oral history, Computer History Museum (2010)
- Thomas A. Skornia, Sanders and Advanced Micro Devices: The first fifteen years, 1969–1984: A Case study in realizing the American Dream.
- Interview with Elliott Sopkin, Silicon Genesis, Stanford University (2013)
- Geoff Tate oral history. Computer History Museum (2017)
- Steve Zelencik oral history, Computer History Museum (2016)