China’s would-be Nvidia rival raises $300 million
This is on top of a couple of rounds of seed funding round said to be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.” These were announced in February 2021, shortly after the company’s formation in October 2020 (see Chinese GPU/AI ‘unicorn’ formed to take on Nvidia).
The company now has more than half-a-billion dollars to fund the volume manufacturing of its first GPU chip for which the design is now complete. The latest funds will also support R&D associated with GPU system-on-chip developments and the expansion of a domestic ecosystem to exploit GPU technology, the company said.
The company’s mission is to build a computing platform in the field of visual computing and artificial intelligence in China and develop world-leading GPU intellectual property. In other words to compete with Nvidia, which is reckoned to have about 80 percent of the Chinese GPU/AI market.
The company is led by founder and CEO James Zhang, who was previously a vice president and general manager at Nvidia. Zhang reportedly left Nvidia in September 2020 when he was general manager of Nvidia’s Greater China business. Moore Threads said in a statement issued early in 2021 that engineers have also been recruited from Nvidia, Microsoft, Intel, AMD, ARM and other major technology companies,
The latest funding round was led jointly Shanghai Guosheng Capital, Wuyuan Capital, and BOC International’s Bohai Zhongsheng Fund, CCB International, Qianhai Fund of Funds, and China Merchants Securities. These VCs participated with nine other institutions.
Moore Threads said the first domestically designed full-featured GPU chip has been developed on schedule. The chip has built-in independently developed 3D graphics computing cores, AI training and inference computing cores, high-performance parallel computing cores, and ultra-high-definition video encoding and decoding accelerators.
Next: SMIC or TSMC?
However, what remains unclear is with which foundry substantial parts of the latest round of funding will be spent.
Nvidia is already on 7nm manufacturing processes and is heading to 5nm and 3nm with leading foundries Samsung and TSMC. Although Moore Threads is not believed to be on a US entity list, if it went to TSMC it could risk being listed, but if it seeks domestic production then its only option is Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC), which has a 14nm FinFET process in production and a so-called ‘N+1 process’ which is slated to follow. This has been described as a “nearly-7nm” manufacturing process that will be key to the decoupling of China’s electronics industry from the west (see China’s Innosilicon tapes out on SMIC’s ‘nearly-7nm’ process).
Moore Threads said China’s annual GPU server market is expected to be worth US$6.4 billion in 2024 and enjoy a 27 percent annual growth rate over the next five years. “Faced with such a fast-growing Chinese market, it is imperative to accelerate the research and development of domestic GPUs,” said Moore Threads in a translated statement.
The company also sees part of its role as being developing a Chinese ecosystem to exploit its GPUs. Moore Threads said it has established cooperative relations with hundreds of partners to promote the joint development, performance optimization and application innovation of domestic GPU application software.
The applications Moore Threads is seeking to enable are the usual ones of digital twins, industrial simulation, digital cultural creation, smart energy, smart cities, smart medical, autonomous driving, robotics, digital humans, biological computing and so on.
In the translated statement Wang Lixin, chairman of Bohai Zhongsheng Fund, a subsidiary of BOC International, said: “Metaverse, autonomous driving, robotics, biological computing, etc. are inseparable from the empowerment of GPUs, and the demand for GPU chips may see explosive growth.” He added that it took less than a year to complete the research and development of China’s first full-featured GPU.
Related links and articles:
Chinese GPU/AI ‘unicorn’ formed to take on Nvidia
China’s Innosilicon tapes out on SMIC’s ‘nearly-7nm’ process
US adds Chinese quantum computing firms to entity list
Report: China ‘big fund’ executive under investigation
Next Chinese GPU wannabe raises funds
Former AMD executive joins Chinese chip ‘unicorn’
Chinese startup launches ‘Big Island’ 7nm AI GPU
China GPU-to-AI startup lands $50 million funding