NVIDIA may soon announce new AI chips for China to get around US export restrictions

The new chips were designed to be less powerful than the models sold in the US, according to sources.

Handout . / reuters

NVIDIA really, really doesn't want to lose access to China's massive AI chip market. The company is developing three new AI chips especially for China that don't run afoul of the latest export restrictions in the US, according to The Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Last year, the US government notified the chipmaker that it would restrict the export of computer chips meant for supercomputers and artificial intelligence applications to Russia and China due to concerns that the components could be used for military purposes. That rule prevented NVIDIA from selling certain A100 and H100 chips in the country, so it designed the A800 and H800 chips specifically for the Chinese market.

However, the US government recently issued an updated set of restrictions that puts a limit on how much computing power a chip can have when it's meant for export to the aforementioned countries. The A800 and the H800 are no longer eligible for export under the new rules, along with NVIDIA's other products, which include its top-of-the-line RTX 4090 consumer GPU. Some reports even suggest that the company could end up canceling over $5 billion worth of advanced chip orders in China.

The new chips meant for the Chinese market are called the HGX H20, the L20 and the L2, based on the specs sent to distributors. While the H20 is supposed to be the most powerful model out of the three, all of them don't go beyond the computing power threshold set by the US government's new export rules. That means customers using them for AI applications may need more chips than they would if they had access to higher-spec models.

Chinese companies, including Baidu, Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo, have already started designing their own semiconductor to prepare for a possible future wherein they could longer be able to import chips from the US and other countries. Old NVIDIA customers may prefer sticking to the company's components, however, due to its reputation and its software, which The Journal says is some of the most robust for AI development. NVIDIA, according to the source, may announce the new chips as soon as November 16 and start selling them before the year ends.