Chinese designers are throttling chips to evade US controls

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Chips don’t need to be so advanced

Chinese chipmakers have found that while chip specifications have improved over the past decade, they haven’t changed much to make a difference in products.

The United States has sanctioned China in hopes it can limit its access to chip technology. However, Alibaba and start-up Biren Technology are tweaking their most advanced chip designs to reduce processing speeds to avoid penalties.

Alibaba, Biren and other Chinese design houses have created plans for advanced processors to power the country’s next generation of supercomputers, artificial intelligence algorithms and data centers. These are produced overseas by the world’s largest contract chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing.

The US sanctions are designed to limit the processing power of any semiconductor shipped to China without a license. But chipmakers get around this problem by modifying their designs. Of course, they are slower, their launch is delayed and it is painful, but Chinese chips are still better than what can be offered in the domestic market.

Chinese engineers said figuring out what was compliant was complicated because of Washington’s unclear rules for calculating a key metric in chip thresholds called the bidirectional transfer rate, or the speed at which they send each other. Datas. Export controls chips at less than 600 gigabytes per second (GB/s).

Biren tweaked his designs to reduce CPU speeds in hopes of having them manufactured by TSMC. Its first processor, the BR100, would give it a transfer rate of 640 GB / s, exceeding the American limits. Now Biren’s site is showing slower specs for the 576GB/s BR100, according to calculations by Bernstein Research Group. By disabling part of the chip, Biren slowed it down slightly.

Alibaba’s T-Head semiconductor unit is looking to modify its new 5-nanometer processor designed for AI work. The changes being considered could require another production test at TSMC, which would mean a delay of several months and could cost $10 million or more.

But where the US could have gotten its sanctions wrong was that it assumed the Chinese couldn’t do without the latest and greatest from AMD, Nvidia or Intel. However, although the treatment has improved over the past decade, the solutions are quite similar to what they used to be. While the United States could freeze chip development, it would have to make significant improvements itself before there is a huge divide between China and the United States, especially in areas like AI or production work.

Before the sanctions, China was dependent on the United States and would always be about five to six years behind. He had very little need or will to create a meaningful chip industry. Now he has built a chip industry and produced his own designs. Of course, in the short term, they will be behind the United States, but that will not last and five years behind is not so miserable. It seems that the United States has created competition where there was none.

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