BSN* Interviews Origin PC CEO Kevin Wasielewski on Why They Dropped AMD GPUs
10/15/2013 by: Anshel Sag
Hi Kevin, thanks for agreeing to do this. We just wanted to ask you some questions about the whole AMD situation to clear up the air and go on the record about the whole situation.
Anshel: Hi Kevin, thanks for joining us. Could you please give our audience a little background about yourself and your company?
Kevin: I am one of the three founders of ORIGIN PC along with Richard Cary and Hector Penton. Next month will be our four year anniversary, and my partners and I each worked at Alienware for over a decade. We are passionate about our love for building and supporting high performance PCs and our love for gaming.
Anshel: Could you tell us how long you've been working with AMD as a graphics card vendor (including ATi).
Kevin: Including our time at Alienware we’ve worked with AMD and ATI for over 15 years. We miss ATI.
Anshel: When did your relationship with AMD begin to deteriorate?
Kevin: ORIGIN PC has never had a consistent point of contact or a reliable timeframe to get responses.
Anshel: You guys built systems for AMD at E3 this year, were things good up until then?
Kevin: AMD has a lot of great people doing a lot of great things. Unfortunately overall within the company the communication and support is drastically inconsistent and unreliable.
Anshel: We recently had a pretty lengthy exchange about this topic via Twitter and you said that their support was lacking and that your tech support staff asked you to remove AMD GPUs because of a high % of failures, what percentage do you consider high?
Kevin: Our support staff specifically requested to drop AMD GPUs. To clarify, it’s not just failures it’s a high percentage of issues. Anything that provides a negative experience to an ORIGIN PC customer is an issue for us. This includes failures, games crashing, artifacts, and lack of driver support.
Any product causing multiple issues in the field is reported from our support group to our product group and if things cannot be fixed and/or there is no support from the manufacturer then a decision to drop that product may happen. We have done this many times in the past and will continue to do this as necessary. We have done this with Motherboards, Hard Drives, Memory, Add in Board partners, and more. This is the first time we have done it with a GPU Vendor. We consider over 5% of product in the field failing to be high.
Anshel: You also said that their communication had been poor communication, what kinds of instances made you feel this way?
Kevin: As mentioned the communication was drastically inconsistent and unreliable. I can’t even tell you how many different people we have been sent to over the past four years because the number is so high that we have lost count. Our point of contact was constantly changing and when we did speak with people a lot of times they were either uninformed, unresponsive, or unwilling to provide support.
Anshel: You also said that that you guys weren't happy with their support, how did they fail to support you as a graphics card vendor? Did they not supply you with drivers you needed or RMA cards in a timely fashion?
Kevin: When we had issues with their product we had to jump through hoops to get someone to help us quickly diagnose and solve the issue. When new products launched we would not get them in a timely manner and we had to juggle the possibility of having to risk launch just to remain up to date on our site (we never did and instead launched late). Support from AMD graphics to ORIGIN PC felt unorganized and forced. Take all those and couple them with field failures/issues and you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to ORIGIN PC supporting customers. Our ability to provide great support to our customers comes from our years of experience and strong partner relationships. Our partners ability to support us helps us support our customers.
Anshel: Some say that you were paid by Nvidia to drop AMD as a GPU vendor, is this true? Have you made any monetary benefits as a result of making the switch to Nvidia?
Kevin: It is absolutely not true that NVIDIA paid us to drop AMD and I can assure you we have not received any monetary benefits. In fact, I called my NVIDIA rep and informed them that we were dropping AMD. NVIDIA did not ask us to drop AMD. I find it interesting that not a single person has been quoted on any of those false allegations. There is simply no proof of this.
Anshel: Some also say that you did this because you weren't invited to AMD's GPU14 in Hawaii, what do you say to that?
Kevin: Also not true. We did not expect to be invited to Hawaii. When we did offer AMD GPUs on our website, a very low % of customers actually picked AMD. With the amount of AMD GPUs we sold it makes little sense to invite us to Hawaii. We did, however, expect to be at least told that they were launching something. We didn’t even get a call or email that ANY announcement was being made. Nothing. We heard from a third party that AMD was announcing something. When we reached out to them for information the response was that they “thought” they had emailed us about it (but they didn’t) and that we could watch the live unveiling for information.
Anshel: Did they ever contact you to talk about their new line of GPUs or attempt to establish a channel of communication?
Kevin: That is partially answered in the previous answer. After we watched the public announcement, AMD eventually did provide some information on the cards. A sample card was sent for testing, but it was a single low end card. AMD knows that we mostly sell high end configurations with multiple GPUs. When we requested higher end cards we were told two cards would arrive on a specific date. That date came and went. Nothing arrived. No phone call. No email. Nothing. Just another example of one of many, many instances of poor communication. This happened before our decision to drop AMD.
Anshel: Did you ever try to contact anyone at AMD about your support issues, RMA problems and disappointing levels of communication outside of SOP? If so, whom?
Kevin: We choose not to provide specific names of AMD employees or provide specific emails, but yes there were many complaints. AMD can confirm this on their side.
Anshel: Getting back to your issues about the product, what were the reasons for your RMAs of AMDs GPUs? How long did you work with the company to resolve these issues before dropping them?
Kevin: Some of the reasons have been overall video card failures, artifacts, hard crashes caused by the card, no post events, Enduro for the mobile cards not performing well, and driver support for notebooks. As far as timeframe, as mentioned this has been ongoing.
Anshel: Why did you find it necessary to publicly announce that you are dropping AMD as a GPU vendor?
Kevin: This is the first time we (or anyone that we know of) has decided to drop a GPU provider so we thought it was newsworthy. We wanted our customers to know why we can’t guarantee a great experience with AMD GPUs. We are making a statement that it’s not right for a company to sell you a product and not provide basic communication and support. We are aware that other system builders continue to sell a low % of AMD GPUs yet deal with a higher % of issues. It’s just not fair to the system builders or to the end users.
Anshel: If AMD support was as poor as you stated, why do you think other system builders would still offer AMD GPUs? Why do you think other system builders are able to build system with AMD GPUs and have a failures margins of 1-2% as stated in PC World by Jon Bach but still offer AMD GPUs?
Kevin: Every system builder has their own criteria for what they choose to offer their customers so I can only speculate as to why they offer certain GPUs, motherboards, SSDs, etc that ORIGIN PC does not offer. To be clear, this is not just about failures. This is about poor communication a high number of poor customer experiences which led to calls/emails/chats to our support team.
Anshel: Can you back up your claim of poor support from AMD - similar to how Puget did, with concrete numbers? What specific AIBs did you work with, what models were failing and how?
Kevin: When we offered AMD, an extremely low % of customers actually chose AMD, yet our support staff was providing feedback of a high number of support instances for AMD GPUs. We’ve had customers that initially picked AMD request to be changed to NVIDIA. We have never had a single NVIDIA customer request to be changed to AMD. On top of that, the support and communication from AMD was missing. It wasn’t necessary for us to run percentages beyond all of those major concerns.
Anshel: As a business owner, won't dropping AMD hurt your bottom line with a new high-end GPU slating to be released as well as a high-end game to spur sales?
Kevin: If we continued selling AMD GPUs and providing customers with a poor experience we would have even more support issues and we would have lost those customers anyways.
Anshel: How do you plan to recoup any potential losses of not having the latest and greatest GPU?
Kevin: Our customers are the most important piece to the puzzle here. The more customers we have with positive experiences, the more customers we have returning to us and telling their friends about us. By dropping a product that was creating negative customer experiences we are ensuring that our customers are happy and therefore more likely to tell their friends about us.
Anshel: Do you think this move hurts your relationship with AMD on the CPU side?
Kevin: That might be true, but we also sell a very low % of AMD CPUs and those systems do not have a high % of issues.
Anshel: Why drop their GPUs and not CPUs? Isn't it the same level of support and communication if it’s the same company?
Kevin: AMD is not a small company and they have many different departments so it is not entirely the same. As mentioned we have spoken to many different contacts at AMD. Bottom line though, we have not had issues with AMD CPUs in the field and they do provide a positive customer experience so there is no need to drop their CPUs.
Anshel: You've done a lot of giveaways with AMD in the past, so obviously they have been working with you on projects, so what’s changed?
Kevin: Answer for question 4 applies to this. I can also add to that. We did a number of social media giveaways with a third party marketing firm that reached out to us to build these giveaway machines. That company is directly paid by AMD to promote AMD and they provided most of the parts to us. A high % of these machines had issues in the field and we moved away from working with that company some time ago.
Anshel: Obviously NVIDIA is getting bombarded with media asking if they gave you a large incentive to drop AMD, how does this reflect your relationship with NVIDIA?
Kevin: Our relationship with NVIDIA has not changed at all.
Anshel: What is going to happen to the customer that does ask for an AMD GPU – will you offer it per request or will you cease to offer it moving forward.
Kevin: We will inform that customer that unfortunately at this time we removed AMD GPUs from our lineup and explain the reasoning. We will not offer it as a custom order at this time.
Anshel: Thanks a lot Kevin for answering our questions and we really hope that the truth about why you dropped AMD as a GPU vendor gets out to the public.
Kevin: Thanks for reaching out to me for comment. For those customers that do prefer AMD GPUs, we hope that AMD will make some changes and start offering ORIGIN PC the necessary product, drivers, communication, and support to enable us to guarantee positive experiences with our high performance custom PCs. If that day comes we would be happy to offer AMD GPUs as an option again.
Once again, we want to say thanks to Kevin and Origin PC for responding to our questions and helping to clear up any rumors or uncertainty about their company's business or products.
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