[News] Cooling Response to NVIDIA’s Exclusive Chips for China, Lack of Interest in Downgraded Models by Customers

2024-01-08 Semiconductors editor

In order to comply with new regulations on the export of chips to the United States, NVIDIA has been consistently releasing AI chips and graphics cards tailored for the Chinese market.

However, according to sources cited by The Wall Street Journal, since November 2023, major cloud service provider (CSP) in China such as Alibaba and Tencent have been testing samples of NVIDIA’s special chips. These Chinese enterprises have conveyed to NVIDIA that the quantity of chips they plan to order in 2024 will be significantly lower than their initial plans.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, in October 2023, the United States announced new regulations preventing NVIDIA from selling advanced AI chips to China. However, NVIDIA swiftly developed a “special edition” chip for China, allowing them to continue selling chips in the Chinese market without violating regulations.

Nevertheless, NVIDIA is facing another challenge: major Chinese CSPs are not actively purchasing the “downgraded” performance versions of the chips.

Chinese enterprises have been testing the highest-performance version, H20, of NVIDIA’s “special edition” AI chips. Some testers have mentioned that this chip enables efficient data transfer among multiple processors, making it a better choice than domestic alternatives for building chip clusters required for processing AI computational workloads.

However, testers also indicate that they need more H20 to compensate for the performance gap compared to previous NVIDIA chips, which increases their costs.

The report indicates that in the short term, the performance advantage of NVIDIA’s “downgraded” chips over domestic Chinese products is diminishing, making Chinese-made chips increasingly attractive to buyers.

Informed sources cited from the report suggest that major players like Alibaba and Tencent are redirecting some advanced semiconductor orders to domestic companies and relying more on internally developed chips. This trend is also observed with the other two major chip buyers, Baidu and ByteDance.

Looking ahead in the long term, Chinese customers are uncertain about NVIDIA’s ability to continue supplying them with chips, as U.S. regulatory authorities have committed to regularly reviewing chip export controls, potentially tightening restrictions on chip performance further.

From the perspective of China’s efforts in the independent development of AI chips, TrendForce previously highlighted in its press release that Chinese CSPs like Baidu and Alibaba are actively investing in autonomous AI chip development.

Baidu developed its first self-researched ASIC AI chip, Kunlunxin, in early 2020, with its second generation scheduled for mass production in 2021 and the third expected to launch in 2024. Post-2023, Baidu aimed to use Huawei’s Ascend 910B acceleration chips and expand the use of Kunlunxin chips for its AI infrastructure.

After Alibaba’s acquisition of CPU IP supplier Zhongtian Micro Systems in April 2018 and the establishment of T-Head Semiconductor in September of the same year, the company began developing its own ASIC AI chips, including the Hanguang 800.

TrendForce reports that T-Head’s initial ASIC chips were co-designed with external companies like GUC. However, after 2023, Alibaba is expected to increasingly leverage its internal resources to enhance the independent design capabilities of its next-gen ASIC chips, primarily for Alibaba Cloud’s AI infrastructure.

According to the data from TrendForce, currently, around 80% of the high-end AI chips used by Chinese cloud computing companies are sourced from NVIDIA. However, in the next five years, this proportion may decrease to 50% to 60%.

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(Photo credit: NVIDIA)

Please note that this article cites information from The Wall Street Journal