The U.S. has begun to impose fresh restrictions on exports of advanced chips necessary for AI-related applications to Russia and China, blocking the sale of the semiconductors that power systems sold by the likes of AMD and Nvidia without a license.
Nvidia disclosed Wednesday that it had received a notification from the U.S. government that new licensing requirements are being implemented that affect sales of its advanced line of server GPUs to Russia or China. AMD confirmed that it received a similar notification from the U.S. for its line of GPUs that are suited for performing AI-related computing.
Nvidia’s disclosure indicates that the fresh export controls are not aimed at the specific chips themselves but at the performance thresholds that are closely associated with Nvidia A100 processors — the current generation of chips deployed in the field. The controls affect AMD’s competing product, the MI200.
Wednesday’s disclosure is another sign that the U.S. is undergoing a significant shift in its approach to China and its ability to make and use advanced chips. Under the Biden administration, the U.S. Commerce Department has implemented a new rule that could block the export of chip design software that’s necessary to build the next generation of chips. Part of the administration’s thinking revolves around its plan to choke off access to technology needed for AI-related applications.
"While we are not in a position to outline specific policy changes at this time, we are taking a comprehensive approach to implement additional actions necessary related to technologies, end-uses, and end-users to protect U.S. national security and foreign policy interests," the Commerce Department said in a statement. "This includes preventing China’s acquisition and use of U.S. technology in the context of its military-civil fusion program to fuel its military modernization efforts, conduct human rights abuses, and enable other malign activities."
The administration also plans to hamper China’s ability to manufacture chips with a current generation of transistors called FinFETs — known as "fin field-effect transistors" — by choking off access to the equipment needed to fabricate such chips. FinFET designs have been common for years and are currently found in the latest smartphone and server processors.
China represents a significant portion of Nvidia’s sales and, according to an SEC filing, could affect as much as $400 million in quarterly sales. In a statement, Nvidia said that it was working with customers in China to divert its purchases to alternative products, and may seek a license where replacements wouldn’t work. AMD sells far fewer AI chips into China and does not believe the restrictions would have a material effect on its revenue.
This story was updated with a statement from the U.S. Commerce Department.