Tech war between US and China, gaps in AI chip export restrictions

TIME.CO, JakartaUnited States of America will take measures to prevent American chipmakers from selling semiconductors to China that circumvent government restrictions, an American official said. This is part of the new Biden administration’s move to block more exports of AI chips.

The new rules, details of which were first reported by Reuters, will be in addition to U.S. restrictions on shipments of advanced chips and chipmaking equipment to China announced last October. The update was expected this week, another person familiar with the matter said, although the schedule often slips.

The new rules will block some AI chips that fall below current technical parameters and force companies to report shipments of other chips, said the official, who provided the information on condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees export controls, declined to comment.

The latest crackdown on technology exports to China coincides with US efforts to thaw bitter relations between the world’s two largest economies. Several senior members of the Biden administration have met with their Chinese counterparts in recent months, and the latest regulations risk complicating diplomatic efforts.

Last year, government restrictions meant Nvidia (NVDA.O), the world’s most valuable chipmaker, couldn’t ship two of its most advanced AI chips to Chinese customers, chips that have become the industry standard for the development of chatbots and other AI systems.

But Nvidia soon released a new variant for the Chinese market that was less sophisticated and managed to get past US export controls. One of them, called the H800, has the same computing power in some settings used in AI work as the company’s more powerful but stalled H100 chip. However, according to a spec sheet seen by Reuters, some key aspects of performance are still limited.

New restrictions

The United States now plans to introduce new guidelines for AI chips that would restrict some advanced AI chips for data centers that are not currently in use, U.S. officials said.


While the official declined to identify which additional chips would actually be banned, Nvidia’s H800 is a semiconductor that sources suggest the government wants to block.

A spokesperson for Nvidia, based in Santa Clara, California, declined to comment. In June, the company’s chief financial officer said that if the H800 and its accompanying chip called the A800 were scaled back, they did not anticipate it would “have an immediate material impact on our financial results.”

Chips intended for consumer products such as laptops will be exempt from the new restrictions, the official said. But according to the official, companies must notify the Commerce Department when they fill orders for more powerful consumer chips to ensure they are not used in a way that threatens national security.

To prevent the AI ​​chips from being seen as too powerful compared to Chinese ones, the official said the US plans to stop taking into account one of the parameters – the “bandwidth parameter” – that it has used to determine what type of AI data center chip. to limit. The bandwidth, or interconnect, metric is a measure of how quickly chips communicate with each other.

Under current thresholds, a chip must exceed performance speed and bandwidth thresholds to be throttled. By removing the bandwidth parameter, a chip will be immediately throttled if it exceeds a certain performance rate, in other words, how powerful each chip is.

It will also be limited if it exceeds another measure, namely “density”. performance” to help prevent future fixes, the official said, but declined to elaborate.

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