According to the Financial Times, Chinese chip designers are looking to edge through U.S. sanctions with slower processor speeds.
Contract chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC) has stopped production for Chinese clients after Washington rolled out its curbs. Sources said the company is waiting for the designers, including Alibaba and Biren, to prove that their designs meet U.S. requirements. Otherwise, it will not forward any shipments.
A senior engineer at Biren said the company is reducing processor speeds hoping that TSMC will continue production. However, Dylan Patel, chief analyst at semiconductor research group SemiAnalysis, believed Biren was only disabling part of the chip.
Patel tells the Times, “They are not changing the chip design, so it’s like saying ‘pinky promise we won’t re-enable it later on’ and it’s unclear if the [U.S.] government will accept that.”
Before the sanctions, Biren was touting that its processor could far outpace GPUs from Nvidia and AMD. Previously on its website, the BR100, Biren’s first processor, had specs that would have allowed it to transfer data at a rate of 640 gigabytes per second (GB/s). That exceeds U.S. restrictions, which are set at 600 GB/s. Now, the BR100 description has changed to 576 GB/s.
People also told the Times that Alibaba is researching how to alter its brand-new, specially designed 5-nanometer processor for AI tasks. The design team is considering conducting another production test run at TSMC. However, they claimed this option would require a delay of several months and cost $10 million or more.
A person from Alibaba’s semiconductor unit, T-Head, ensured they would do anything to remain compliant. However, a spokesperson insisted that their products are solely for Alibaba Group’s proprietary use and compliant with all relevant regulations.
According to the Times, both Alibaba and Biren invested hugely to test their most recent chips in TSMC before introducing the export controls. Some of their most advanced chips have taken years and millions of dollars to develop for them and other Chinese design houses.