Two months after the United States stifled China’s access to two of Nvidia’s high-end chips, the American semiconductor design giant has unveiled a substitute with reduced processing speed for its second market. .
The Nvidia A800 graphics processing unit is “another Nvidia A100 GPU alternative product for customers in China,” an Nvidia spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “The A800 meets the clear US government 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 biotechnology and finance to manufacturing. Alibaba’s cloud computing business has been one of its clients. A100, along with Nvidia’s H100 enterprise AI chip, have been placed on a US export control list to “address the risk that covered products may be used in or diverted to ‘military end use’ or a “military end user” in China and Russia.”
Nvidia previously reported that the US ban could affect up to $400 million in potential sales in China in the third quarter, so the new chip appears to be an attempt to remedy the financial loss. The A800 GPU entered production in the third quarter, according to Nvidia’s spokesperson.
Indeed, chip distributors in China, such as Omnisky, already market the A800 in their product catalogs. The chip appears to be designed to circumvent US export rules while providing other basic computing capabilities. Most of the key specifications of the A100 and A800 are identical except for their interconnect speeds: the A800 operates at 400 GB per second while the A100 operates at 600 GB per second, which which corresponds to the performance threshold defined by the American ban.
According to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think tank, “By targeting only chips with very high interconnect speeds, the White House is attempting to limit controls to chips designed to be networked together in data from supercomputing centers or facilities that train and run large AI models.”
Nvidia isn’t alone in slowing down its chips to evade US sanctions. According to the Financial Times, Alibaba and Chinese chip design start-up Biren, which have poured resources into making Nvidia processor rivals, are changing the performance of their latest semiconductors. Indeed, Alibaba and Biren, like other fabless semiconductor companies, rely on Taiwan’s TSMC to manufacture their products. And because US export controls cover chip sales by companies using US technologies, sales from TSMC factories to China could be curtailed.