Two months after the US stifled China’s access to two of Nvidia’s high-end microchips, the US semiconductor design giant unveiled a slower-processing alternative for its second-largest market.
The Nvidia A800 graphics processing unit is “another alternative product to the Nvidia A100 GPU for customers in China,” an Nvidia spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “The A800 passes the US government’s clear test for reduced export controls and cannot be programmed to exceed it.” The new chip was first reported by Reuters on Monday.
The A100 processor is known for powering supercomputers, artificial intelligence and high-performance data centers for industries ranging from biotech and finance to manufacturing. Alibaba’s cloud computing company is one of its customers. A100, along with Nvidia’s enterprise AI chip H100, were placed under a US export control list to “address the risk that the covered products could be used in or diverted to a ‘military end-use’ or ‘military end-user’ in China and Russia. ”
Nvidia previously reported that the US ban could affect a whopping $400 million in potential sales to China in the third quarter, so the new chip appears to be an attempt to make up for the financial loss. According to the Nvidia spokesperson, the A800 GPU went into production in Q3.
Indeed, chip distributors in China, like Omnisky, are already marketing A800 in their product catalogs. The chip appears to have been designed to circumvent US export regulations while still running other core computing capabilities. Most of the key specs of the A100 and A800 are identical, except for their interconnection speeds: A800 runs at 400 gigabytes per second, while A100 runs at 600 gigabytes per second, giving the performance threshold set by the US ban.
according to an analysis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think tank: “By targeting only chips with very high connection speeds, the White House is trying to limit controls to chips designed to be interconnected in the data centers or supercomputing facilities.” who train and run large AI models.”
Nvidia isn’t alone in slowing down its chips to evade US sanctions. Alibaba and Chinese chip design startup Biren, which have put resources into making rivals to Nvidia processors, are tweaking the performance of their latest semiconductors, according to the Financial Times. That’s because Alibaba and Biren, like other fab semiconductor companies, contract Taiwan’s TSMC to make their products. And because U.S. export controls cover sales of chips by companies using U.S. technologies, sales of TSMC plants to China could be curtailed.