The Biden administration’s sweeping regulations that curb the sale of semiconductors and chipmaking equipment to China and pull American workers out of the country appear to have a gap that one Chinese chip designer is exploiting.
Bloomberg said Chinese startup Biren Technology had developed artificial intelligence chips that compete with graphics chips from Nvidia Corp., which can no longer be sold in China due to new export controls on the chip industry. But people familiar with the matter said the sanctions don’t cover Biren’s AI chips produced by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.
Biren has claimed that its chips outperform Nvidia’s A100 AI accelerator — the product that the Biden administration said couldn’t be sold for fears Beijing will use these chips to enhance military capabilities.
TSMC and Biren concluded the new Chinese chip’s specs fall just short of Biden’s restriction, according to one of the people, which may suggest Washington’s ability to annihilate China’s chip industry doesn’t entirely limit all alternatives to Nvidia’s hardware.
The gap in new restrictions was also pointed out by Bernstein analysts led by Mark Li in a note to clients:
“Biren has a chip fortunately just below the threshold and the chip hence can still be made by TSMC.”
Bernstein’s analysis shows that Biren’s flagship BR100 falls just under the connectivity speeds and operations per second of the restrictions. In the meantime, Biren may continue developing its high-end semiconductors that are alternatives to US chips though Washington’s curbs are capping its technological process.
In response to Washington’s latest restrictions, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology summoned executives from the country’s top chip firms for emergency meetings this week to evaluate the damage.
And the restrictions might expand in the coming weeks, if not months. South China Morning Post reported Biden administration is exploring new export controls that would limit China to quantum computing and artificial intelligence software.
As for now, at least one Chinese chip designer has navigated through Biden’s export restrictions to produce advanced chips.