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Chinese chip designers slow processors to dodge US sanctions

Several Chinese companies engaged among other things to chip design is it so modifying the designs of its most advanced processors to lower their speed and avoid sanctions that aim to eliminate China’s computing power. Alibaba and Biren, among others, have for years spent billions creating advanced processor designs to power a new generation of supercomputers, AI algorithms and data centers. But according to Ars Technica, they are manufactured outside its borders, at TSMC’s Taiwanese facilities.

Sanctions announced by the US government last month, which cripple the processing power of any processor shipped to China if the maker doesn’t hold a special license, have put a damper on his ambitions. Both Alibaba and Biren had been testing their latest chips at TSMC when the sanctions were announced. Therefore, companies have stopped production of current chips and have made various changes to their designs.

For Alibaba it is a serious blow. His shares have lost 80% of their value since the Chinese government canceled the IPO of its subsidiary Ant Group two years ago, and the graphics chip he was preparing was to be the first graphics chip of his own. Besides, his release was near. US export controls from third countries to China have dashed their expectations. In addition, the US government had already restricted Nvidia and AMD’s exports to China. Furthermore, China’s chip production plants are several years behind in producing next-generation chips, such as those designed by Alibaba and Biren.

These sanctions, which are partly targeting high-end processors, are more than likely to slow down the development of China’s tech sector. The country’s semiconductor design industry is catching up quickly with the help of government and investor funding.

biren it is among the most advanced designer groups of its kind. But, apparently, according to rival companies, it has boasted a lot about its designs and the specifications of its products are public. These suggest that it is better to keep a low profile, because now it will be difficult for TSMC to help Biren.

Several engineers from design groups working with TSMC have pointed out that it is difficult for the company to judge and determine the power of a processor. Therefore, TSMC has started asking its Chinese customers to self-report processor power and sign disclaimer documents.

A source close to TSMC has pointed out that Biren’s presentations showing off its processors have forced the manufacturer to halt supplies sent to the company, because it is likely that the performance of the chips matched the specifications prohibited by US restrictions. Export controls cap the chips at a maximum speed of 600 gigabytes per second.

Biren has already apparently slowed down at least one of its most advanced chips, but without changing its design. Because of that there are doubts that the United States government will accept itsince there is the possibility that later, when there are no more problems, they will modify it so that it returns to the speed initially planned.

At Alibaba, meanwhile, they are studying how to modify their new 5-nanometer processor designed for Artificial Intelligence. The changes that are being considered would require another production test at TSMC, which would imply a delay of months. In addition, it could cost them a minimum of 10 million.

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