Jim Keller, a key figure in breakthrough developments in computing, launched his latest venture as CEO of Tenstorrent last September. Keller’s career has spanned more than four decades with some of the industry’s most important projects, including key positions at AMD and Apple, making him a key figure in microprocessor design. Who’s Jim Keller? What was he doing at Tenstorrent?
The Formative Years of CPU Visionaries
Born in the 1950s, Jim Keller‘s interest in technology led him to pursue a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering at Penn State University, which he completed in 1980.
Keller began his career at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1982, where he was instrumental in the development of several CPU families. It was here that Keller honed his skills and contributed to the design of the VAX 8800, Alpha 21164, and Alpha 21264 processors. These early experiences at DEC were crucial in shaping his approach to CPU design, which combined innovative thinking with technical prowess.
AMD and Other Companies
Keller’s transfer to AMD in 1998 marked an important start to his career. At AMD, he served as chief architect of the Athlon K7 processor and K8 microarchitecture, laying the foundation for AMD’s future advances in computing power and efficiency. Keller went on to hold key roles at a number of major technology companies, including SiByte, Broadcom, and PA Semi.
As Chief Architect at SiByte and Broadcom, Keller was responsible for the development of 1 Gbps network interfaces and other MIPS-based processor projects. His experience as vice president of engineering at PA Semi is particularly noteworthy. During his tenure at Apple, Keller played a crucial role in the development of the Apple A4 and A5 SoC mobile processors. These chips have powered generations of Apple’s mobile devices and marked a major milestone in the history of mobile computing.
Tenstorrent: A New Chapter in AI Processing
In 2020, Keller made a major career change, moving from CPU architect to CEO. With Tenstorrent at the helm, Keller is currently focused on creating a new generation of licensable AI computing IP and hardware designed to meet the growing demands of AI workloads.
Tenstorrent’s innovative approach is a core grid-composed processor with Tensix at its core. These processors are unique in that they contain network communication hardware, allowing them to “talk” to other processors directly over the network rather than through traditional DRAM. This innovative approach to processor communication and design exemplifies Keller’s forward-thinking approach to CPU design.
LG’s Partnership and Future Vision
Recently, Tenstorrent announced a major partnership with South Korea’s LG. The collaboration aims to build RISC-V, AI, and video codec chips for future automotive and TV products. The deal is expected to create new collaborations to integrate AI capabilities into LG’s high-end TV platforms while incorporating video codec technology into Tenstorrent’s data center portfolio. This collaboration is a testament to Tenstorrent’s growing potential in the industry and reflects the company’s innovative approach to artificial intelligence and processor technology.
Jim Keller’s career is a testament to his lasting impact on the semiconductor industry. From his early days at DEC to his current role at Tenstorrent, Keller has continued to push the boundaries of microprocessor design. His transition from traditional CPU design to the AI processing frontier of Tenstorrent’s RISC-V architecture marks another chapter in his distinguished career.
Under Keller’s leadership, Tenstorrent secured $100 million in funding led by investors including Hyundai Motor Group, Samsung Catalyst Fund, and several large private equity firms. This investment will accelerate the development of Tenstorrent’s unique technologies, including AI microchips and ML software roadmaps, further solidifying its position in the AI processing industry.