US chipmaker Nvidia Corp has confirmed reports that it is offering a new advanced chip in China that meets export control rules imposed by the Biden Administration a month ago.
The chip, called the A800, appears to be the first effort by a US semiconductor company to create advanced processors for China that follow new US trade rules, which aim to keep cutting-edge technology out of China’s hands.
Nvidia said previously the export limitations could cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
US regulations set in early October effectively banned export of advanced microchips and equipment to produce advanced chips by Chinese chipmakers, part of an effort to hobble China’s semiconductor industry and its military.
In late August, Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices both said that their advanced chips, including Nvidia’s data centre chip A100, were added to the export control list by the US Commerce Department.
The Nvidia A800 can be used in place of the A100 and both are GPUs, or graphics processing units. Such advanced chips can cost thousands of dollars each.
“The Nvidia A800 GPU, which went into production in Q3, is another alternative product to the Nvidia A100 GPU for customers in China. The A800 meets the US Government’s clear test for reduced export control and cannot be programmed to exceed it,” a Nvidia spokesperson said in a statement.
Reduced Data Transfer Rate
Nvidia declined comment on whether it consulted the Commerce Department about the new chip. A Commerce Department spokesperson declined to comment.
At least two Chinese websites by major server makers are already offering the A800 chip in their products. One of those products previously used the A100 chip in promotional material.
A distributor website in China detailed the specifications of the A800. A comparison of the chip capabilities with the A100 shows that the chip-to-chip data transfer rate is 400 gigabytes per second on the new chip, down from 600 gigabytes per second on the A100. The new rules restrict rates of 600 gigabytes per second and up.
“The A800 looks to be a repackaged A100 GPU designed to avoid the recent Commerce Department trade restrictions,” said Wayne Lam, an analyst at CCS Insight, basing his comments on the specs, and noting that eight is a lucky number in China.
“China is a significant market for Nvidia and it makes ample business sense to reconfigure your product to avoid trade restrictions,” said Lam.
Lam said the chip-to-chip communications abilities of the A800 represented a clear performance downgrade for a data centre where thousands of chips are used together.
Alibaba, Biren Move to Cut Processing Speeds: FT
Alibaba and start-up Biren Technology are reported to be tweaking the design of their most advanced chips to reduce the processing speeds and avoid US-imposed sanctions, according to a report by the Financial Times, which noted that figuring out what complies with the US rules is tricky because there are several ways that transfer rates can be calculated.
A semiconductor analyst with SemiAnalysis said it looks like Biren is attempting to slow down its processors by disabling part of the computer chip. “They are not changing the chip design, so it’s like saying ‘Pinky promise, we won’t re-enable it later on’ and it’s unclear if the [US] government will accept that,” Dylan Patel was quoted as saying in the report, republished by ArsTechnica.
Meanwhile, major Chinese server makers Inspur and H3C, which offer servers with the new chips did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did chip distributor OmniSky, which posted the A800 specs online.
Nvidia has said that about $400 million worth of chip sales to China could be impacted in its fiscal third quarter ended in October due to the limits on high-end chips.
Having a replacement chip could help lessen the financial blow. The company is to report quarterly results on November 16.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard
NOTE: Further details were added to this report on November 8, 2022.