Semi-OT: NVidia hobbled China AI offerings

Last year, The United States imposed a tech ban on China which stopped major tech companies including NVIDIA from selling chips to the country. This was done to make sure that the Chinese military and research couldn’t use these advanced chips for their own strategic advances. As such, NVIDIA designed a chip following the US regulations and offered a cut-down design of its top GPUs, the A100 and H100, for the Chinese market.

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These chips were labeled as A800 and H800 and were designed on the Ampere and Hopper GPU architecture, respectively. The first of these two chips is already available in China but it looks like they are very high in demand due to their AI capabilities that work great for applications such as Generative AI and ChatGPT models. Although NVIDIA’s standard GPUs offer a lot of performance, bigger organizations and data centers require server-specific chips and that’s why A800 is the one and only fit for their needs.

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MyDrivers has revealed that due to high demand, the NVIDIA A800 GPU prices have been raised to 100,000 RMB which converts to $15,000 US. That’s twice as much what most people paid for when buying a previous-gen general-purpose server. But those who need the extra power have to pay the higher prices.

Although the specifications for the A100 and A800 GPUs from NVIDIA are virtually the same, what’s not the same is the interconnect bandwidth and scalability options. For example, both the A800 PCIe & SXM variants have NVLINK interconnect cut down by 200 GB/s and the SXM variant is only scalable across 4-8 GPUs whereas the standard A100 SXM GPUs allow up to 16 GPUs. Furthermore, the NVIDIA A800 GPU retails for similar or higher prices as the A100 despite being cut down.

The prices are expected to go up in the coming months as demand for the GPUs increase and NVIDIA shifts its productions to the newer H100 GPU. The H100 retails close to $40,000 US so the H800 is likely going to cost close to $50,000 US in China.


Interesting. So just how “cut-down” in performance are these “China chips” compared to the original ones? I couldn’t glean that from a quick read of the articles. And, frankly, I’m surprised that even these lower performance chips are allowed to be sold to China. The very fact that they are in such high demand in China seems like proof that they are still extremely capable.