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NVIDIA H20 chip faces competition from Huawei

Written by Mon 5 Feb 2024

NVIDIA has begun accepting pre-orders for a new China-specific artificial intelligence (AI) chip. Distributors have priced the NVIDIA offering similarly to a competing product from Huawei.

Reuters reported NVIDIA priced orders for H20 distributors in China in a range of £9,531 ($12,000) to £11,914 ($15,000) per card. Some distributors have promoted the NVIDIA chips at a markup toward the lower end of the range, around £12,167 ($15,320).

In contrast, Huawei’s 910B is priced at about £13,388 ($16,856), citing sources familiar with the matter.

Distributors are reportedly selling NVIDIA H20 servers pre-configured with eight AI chips for £156,560 ($196,745). This marked a significant price drop compared to servers equipped with eight H800 chips, which sold for around £223,657 ($281,065) when launched a year ago.

The specifications for the NVIDIA H20 chip indicated it is less powerful than the Huawei Ascend 910B in key areas. 

According to a source, one example of where the H20 appears to lag is the 910B in its floating point 32-bit (FP32) performance. This is a metric that measures how rapidly a chip can process common tasks. The H20 chip’s FP32 performance is reported to be less than half of its rival’s capability. 

However, the H20 appears to outperform the 910B in interconnect speed, which is crucial for transferring data between chips. This advantage allows the H20 to stay competitive with the 910B in applications needing numerous chips linked together to function as a system.

Before the US introduced the chip export restrictions to China, NVIDIA had a 90% market share in China. However, NVIDIA now faces competition from rivals domestic to China. 

Huawei’s 910B chip is currently seen as China’s top AI offering, gaining popularity amid concerns about restricted access to NVIDIA products due to US sanctions.

NVIDIA and the US Chip Export Ban

In January, small batches of NVIDIA chips banned by the US from export to China were purchased by Chinese military bodies, state-run AI research institutions, and universities

In the same month, NVIDIA, said it intended to begin mass production in Q2 2024 of AI chip designed to meet US export rules. Reuters reported the initial production volume of the chip will be limited, with NVIDIA primarily fulfilling orders for major customers. Both of Reuters’ sources chose to remain anonymous, as the information was confidential.

Announced in October, the H20 is the most powerful of the three chips NVIDIA developed for China to meet US restrictions. The chip’s November launch was postponed due to integration issues experienced by the server manufacturers.

The H20, L20, and L2 chips from NVIDIA incorporated the majority of the company’s latest AI features, according to SemiAnalysis examination of the chips. However, the chips have decreased power to comply with newly established regulations.

On 23 October, US export restrictions curbing the sale of high-end AI chips to China came into effect. Implementation of these restrictions was said to be expedited, as regulators advanced the deadline.

The new restrictions are aimed at preventing countries like China, Iran, and Russia from acquiring advanced AI chips like those designed by NVIDIA. They prohibit the sale of chips above a threshold of compute performance of connectivity.

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Written by Mon 5 Feb 2024

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