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Huawei says its AI chip better than Nvidia's A100 amid China's self-reliance drive

Daniel Nenni

Admin
Staff member
A Huawei Technologies executive said the company's latest artificial intelligence (AI) chip is on par with, if not better than Nvidia's A100 - one of the most popular graphics processing units (GPUs) used in the AI industry - in a rare boast by the Chinese tech giant that underscores how quickly it is growing in a market dominated by its US rival.

Huawei's Ascend 910B AI chip has been found in some tests to deliver 80 per cent of the efficiency of an Nvidia A100 when training large language models, but "in some other tests, Ascend chips can beat the A100 by 20 per cent", said Wang Tao, chief operating officer of Huawei Ascend and Kunpeng ecosystem, on the sidelines of the Nanjing World Semiconductor Conference on Thursday.

There is "not much difference" between the computing power performances of the Huawei 910B and Nvidia A100 in large AI model training, Wang added.

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His comments come as Huawei assumes an increasingly important role in China's self-sufficiency drive, as Nvidia is unable to ship to the country its advanced GPUs under strict US export restrictions.

Huawei first introduced the Ascend chip series in 2019, four months after the company was added to a US trade blacklist. Since then, its AI strategy has focused on building an ecosystem of proprietary software and hardware designed to serve domestic clients that have lost access to equivalent technology overseas.

Zhang Dixuan, head of Huawei's Ascend computing business, revealed last month that the Ascend ecosystem had 40 hardware partners, 1,600 software partners and 2,900 AI application solutions.

Despite its ambitions, Huawei has rarely spoken publicly about its efforts to free itself from the shackles of US sanctions aimed at stemming China's technological advancement in semiconductors and AI.

The company has closely guarded the source of the advanced mobile chips that power the Mate 60 smartphone series launched last August - its first 5G handsets in more than two years.

Experts believe the processors were manufactured by US-sanctioned Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, China's top foundry, using improved techniques based on existing equipment.

But analysts have said it would be challenging for Chinese manufacturers to produce high-performance AI computing chips using older systems because in general, AI chips are much bigger than smartphone chips. For example, Nvidia's A100 is eight times larger than Apple's A13 mobile processor.

Nvidia has designed lower-grade chips tailored for China-based clients to keep serving one of the company's largest markets. In the first half of last year, Nvidia processors made up 90 per cent of the 500,000 AI chips that were sold in China, with Huawei grabbing only 6 per cent of the market.

But after Washington in October escalated its export curbs to cover more of Nvidia's chips, CEO Jensen Huang said earlier this year that the firm is facing "a lot more competition in China" because of limitations on the technology it can sell there.

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The main exhibition hall of the World Semiconductor Conference taking place in Nanjing, eastern China. Photo: Che Pan alt=The main exhibition hall of the World Semiconductor Conference taking place in Nanjing, eastern China. Photo: Che Pan>

While Huawei's best chips are technologically inferior to the latest GPUs from Nvidia, which just overtook Apple as the world's second-most valuable firm, the Chinese company's Ascend 910B and Kunpeng chips have emerged as top alternatives for domestic companies working in AI.

Ascend chips have proliferated in various industries through so-called AI boxes - all-in-one machines that combine AI chips, industry-specific algorithms and pre-trained large AI models. Chinese tech giants, including Tencent Holdings and Baidu, as well as leading start-ups like iFlyTek, have bought 910B chips, according to Huawei's Wang.

Huawei operates computer clusters running on Ascend chips in 19 cities across China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. It also has plans to bring new clusters online in major provincial capitals, including Kunming in southwestern Yunnan, Changsha in central Hunan, Changchun in northeastern Jilin and Jinan in eastern Shandong.

 
Why benchmark against a chip (A100) from 2020?
There are limits to what nvidia can sell to China.

If huawei makes a good chip, China will have advanced AI and the US government will have prevented Intel, AMD, and Nvidia from making money. Hauwei will become a dominant force, US companies will be hurt thanks to the US restrictions. Yay?????
 
When you are afraid you try and hold back the competitors you don’t like, that has been the play of the US again and again.
 
I don't think you can just apply western economics and (business) values across the board and say the restrictions do nothing but hurt US companies. We are dealing with a culture with very different economic reasonings/structure, and it always has the long-term goal of having you replaced, regardless of whether they are the most efficient producer.
 
I don't have a "The Information" subscription, but this "exclusive" article looks intriguing, and more reality-based, vs. all the benchmark bluster.

A NEW CRACKDOWN IS CRIPPLING CHINA’S BEST HOPE TO RIVAL NVIDIA

Officials at the US Commerce Department in recent months have pressured American chip equipment makers and their suppliers to stop selling to Huawei.
As a result, Huawei hit a snag in recent weeks, struggling to ramp up production of its Ascend AI server chip according to two people involved in its supply chain.

 
I don't have a "The Information" subscription, but this "exclusive" article looks intriguing, and more reality-based, vs. all the benchmark bluster.

A NEW CRACKDOWN IS CRIPPLING CHINA’S BEST HOPE TO RIVAL NVIDIA

Officials at the US Commerce Department in recent months have pressured American chip equipment makers and their suppliers to stop selling to Huawei.
As a result, Huawei hit a snag in recent weeks, struggling to ramp up production of its Ascend AI server chip according to two people involved in its supply chain.


Looks fake to me.

Firstly, American chip equipment makers never sell any equipment to Huawei in the first place.

Secondly, according to US gov, it is SMIC that is making 7nm chips for Huawei,not huawei themself. So how come Huawei "purchasing US gears" and " struggling to ramp up production" ?
 
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Looks fake to me. Because American chip equipment makers never sell any equipment to Huawei in the first place
I think you're jumping to false conclusions. Most reporting, tends to blur the difference between Huawei and SMIC, even though SMIC does the fabbing. Here's second-hand content from the Information article ("the report"). It does highlight SMIC as well. Seems pretty legitimate based on the small numbers of Ascend 910B we're seeing, plus the relegation of other Huawei Kirin chips to lower priority. Now that The Information has opened the door, I'm sure we'll see more digging by additional press.

"The issues related to the Ascend 910B began in the past few weeks. Huawei and Semiconductor Manufacturing International had estimated they would soon be able to produce around 500,000 Ascend chips per year. However, because the chip fabrication machines were developed for older generation chips, repurposing them to make more-advanced ones, like Ascend 910B, causes parts to break down faster, the report noted.

This makes it difficult for the companies to forecast how many new parts would be required to be replaced. The Ascend 910B relies on fab technology of 7 nanometers, while Nvidia's H100 is produced with 4 nm tech, which is generations ahead of 7 nm.

Huawei and Semiconductor Manufacturing International realized they did not have enough parts to increase manufacturing of the chips. This could make it difficult for Huawei to continue even a smaller-scale manufacturing and to make successor chips to the 910B, as it had planned, the report added."

U.S. pressure endangers Huawei's ability to make alternatives to Nvidia chips - report​

 
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