Biden urged to completely cripple AI chips to China

Give them Z80s, Joe, and tell 'em to like it

Some American lawmakers aren't happy with US efforts to limit exports of AI chips to China, and have called on the Biden administration to enact tighter controls.

In a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, House Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), both of whom serve on a Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, on Friday argued existing trade restrictions were insufficient to prevent "clever engineering" to circumvent regulations.

Last fall, the Biden administration announced sweeping trade restrictions on Chinese chipmakers and barred the export of certain components that could be used to power artificial intelligence applications to China.

The rules barred suppliers from selling processors capable of greater than 600GB/sec of IO bandwidth to the Middle Kingdom. In order to distribute non-trivial workloads – such as training and running large language models – across multiple GPUs or accelerators, chips need to talk to one another over high-speed fabrics. Reducing the speed of these interconnects has a direct impact on overall performance, and is why China wants those high-bandwidth processors.

The rules effectively banned the sale of Nvidia, AMD, and Intel's top spec GPUs and accelerators in the Middle Kingdom. However, not long after the redtape went into effect, Nvidia revealed a cut-down version of its A100 GPU — a popular choice for AI training and inference workloads. This A800 halved the memory and cut the interconnect bandwidth to two thirds of the full-fat card. The computer graphics giant has also since released a version of its H100 accelerator suitable for export to the Chinese market, dubbed the H800.

Earlier this month, Intel announced a modified version of its Guadi2 AI accelerator for the Chinese market. Just like Nvidia's A800, Intel's Guadi2 HL-225B features [PDF] a slimmed-down interconnect.

While technically compliant with US export rules, Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi aren't happy that chipmakers are getting around the rules, contending that the processors still pose a threat to US interests, and that the speed limits should be even lower.

"We urge you to even further strengthen the October 7, 2022, rules so that advanced US technology and expertise related to advanced computing and semiconductors are not used against the United States," they wrote.

The letter comes just weeks after executives from Intel and Qualcomm traveled to Washington DC to discuss the impact stiffer export controls would have on their businesses. Both companies have made significant investments in China, have been eyeing up all the money sloshing around in that market, and stand to lose billions in revenues if cut off from the Middle Kingdom.

Chipmaking lobbyists have also weighed in on the matter, with the US Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) calling for both nations to dial back tensions and find a common ground. ®

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