Despite US sanctions, Huawei is launching new AI chips – Cafétech

After the US withheld key Nvidia graphics cards (GPUs) for several weeks, Baidu wasted no time in looking for an alternative… in China. Already in August, the Chinese search engine turned to Huawei in anticipation of new export restrictions and ordered almost 2,000 units of its latest chip for generative artificial intelligence, according to information in the local press, now confirmed by the Portal agency. This chip is intended to allow the company to train and then run its AI models, most notably powering its Ernie chatbot, which launched this summer. Above all, it represents a major new technological advance for the country at a time when Washington has been trying to cut off its access to the most powerful components for just over a year.

Unexpected Progress – The American measures now leave the field open for Huawei, which had already launched an AI chip in 2018 that was presented at the time as the most powerful on the market. A different era, before the advent of generative AI. And above all, before the Shenzhen group was blacklisted by Washington in the fall of 2020, which prevented it from using the essential design software, mainly American, and the engraving of its components by the Taiwanese TSMC, which was the only one using the software mastered the finest engravings. The new chip called Ascend 910B therefore represents an unexpected success for Huawei. This was made possible by the progress of its subsidiary HiSilicon and the Chinese founder SMIC, which has been equipping its first 5G smartphone with the processor for three years now.

“Comparable to A100” – Technical details are almost non-existent. And for good reason: Huawei has never publicly unveiled the Ascend 910B and doesn’t want to draw Washington’s attention to its progress. According to Portal, the graphics card is engraved in 7nm, an engraving finesse that SMIC is slowly starting to master. Its capabilities would be “comparable to those of Nvidia’s A100,” according to the head of iFlyTek, a Chinese company that specializes in speech recognition and instant translation. The A100 GPUs have long been the most widely used in the industry, enabling, for example, the training of the first versions of GPT, the large language model that powers the chatbot ChatGPT. They have now been replaced by the H100, the new benchmark in the industry.

Nvidia is worried – In other words: The 910B chips only offer a limited alternative to Nvidia’s components, especially for the development of upcoming AI models. But Huawei plans to launch a third version in 2024, which will be used in particular by a research laboratory to build a powerful supercomputer, says the Chinese media Caixin. A scenario feared by Nvidia, headwind against American restrictions. Aside from the impact on sales, limited by strong demand in other countries, managers are particularly concerned about the long-term impact, fearing a sharp acceleration in Chinese efforts to develop competing chips. For this reason, it is preparing to launch new GPUs to avoid the recent sanctions.

For further:
– The USA bans Nvidia from exporting its AI chips to China
– How Huawei took revenge on the USA