Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) isn't acting like a cash-strapped underdog today. It's actually doing a fine impression of a venture capitalist.
The chip designer just invested an undisclosed amount of cash in photo editing software maker Aviary. The privately held target specializes in tools for mobile and online picture scrubbing, and this investment was specifically done to support Aviary's development for Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8 platform.
To get a sense of how big AMD's investment might be, I looked back at Aviary's funding history. The company collected 7 million from venture capitalists in 2009 and another 5.7 million last summer. In both cases, the investments trickled in from numerous firms. Given this background, I'd be surprised if AMD spent more than half a million here.
Aviary's new tools will use the graphics processing power of AMD's hybrid processors. This wrinkle is said to improve photo filter performance as much as 16-fold over less specialized versions of the same software. This could give AMD a leg up over arch rival Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) in certain niche markets, such as professional graphics editing and enthusiast-level digital photography. You gotta get a foot in the door before you can steal anything of value, like Intel's crushingly dominant market share in PC chips.
Yes, you can run Aviary on Microsoft Surface. No, it won't get the AMD-powered speed boost, being designed around a different chipset.
Microsoft won't complain when a longtime partner and a fresh upstart get together to make its much-reviled Windows 8 environment more attractive, even in a small niche. In fact, Microsoft gave Aviary another helping hand in developing the high-performance toolkit but without pouring money directly into the company.
Likewise, you could see the investment-cum-partnership as a marketing expense for AMD. Not that it'll have the same obvious impact as a Super Bowl commercial or a series of splashy billboards along I-10, but this angle could be worth a shot.
I won't say that the recent leaseback deal for AMD's Austin campus enabled this investment, but it's always good to have some extra breathing room when laying down cash without a guaranteed return on the investment.