Nvidia hobbles A100 chip to meet US export control rules
Nvidia Corp. is selling an iteration of its Ampere GPU in China – the A800 – that meets the latest US export control rules.
Chinese computer firms and chip distributors are advertising the new chip, which appears to be essentially a version of the A100 chip – which is not allowed to be sold in China – but with a reduced chip-to-chip bandwidth.
The latest ramping of US trade rules, announced in October, banned the export to China of advanced AI chips and GPUs as well as the sale chip manufacturing equipment that could be used to make manufacturing processes at 14nm and below (see Advanced logic, memory, YMTC come under China export controls).
One key test for an advanced logic IC used for high-performance computing is the I/O bandwidth. This is because many such chips communicate with each other in arrays so that the aggregate performance is limited by chip-to-chip communications. The US has set a threshold of 600Gbyte/s saying chips with this capability and an 8bit integer performance of 600TOPS. Advanced logic at this capability and higher should not be sold to China, according to the latest US rules.
The US justifies the implementation of export controls on the grounds the technology could be used for military purposes.
According to a A800 chip specification posted by Chinese chip distributor Omnisky the A800 appears to be compatible with the A100 but with a bandwidth of 400Gbyte/s compared with the A100’s 600Gbyte/s.
“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 to Reuters.
Nvidia and AMD have both been impacted by the increased severity of the US rules. The Chinese company Biren Technology has also fallen foul of the restrictions after boasting that its BR100, made using a chiplet multi-die approach, exceeded the performance of rival chips (Chinese chiplet-based GPU claims performance record).
Biren was expecting Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. to begin volume manufacturing the chips in 7nm process technology as a foundry supplier. However, TSMC has reportedly halted work on Biren’s components while it reaches a conclusion on whether the BR100 exceeds the US threshold for restrictions (see Report: TSMC stops work on Chinese AI chip amid sanctions confusion).
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