June 21, 2024

A prominent Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) company, Baidu, has placed an order for artificial intelligence chips from Huawei. This decision signals a shift away from a well-known American AI chip giant, Nvidia, amid increasing pressure from the United States

The order, worth about 450 million yuan ($61.83 million), includes 1,600 of Huawei’s 910B Ascend AI chips, designed as an alternative to Nvidia’s A100 chips. 

This order might seem relatively small compared to previous orders from top Chinese tech firms. However, it holds significant implications as it reflects the evolving dynamics of the AI chip market.

The Background: U.S. Pressure on Chinese Tech Firms

The order from Baidu came ahead of new regulations implemented by the U.S. government in October. These regulations tightened restrictions on exports of chips and chip tools to China, particularly those from Nvidia

Baidu is among several leading Chinese tech companies that have traditionally been clients of Nvidia. 

However, with the changing regulatory landscape, Baidu sought an alternative solution to ensure a stable supply of AI chips. Although Huawei’s Ascend chips may not match the performance of Nvidia’s offerings, they represent one of the most sophisticated domestic alternatives available in China. 

The move to purchase 910B chips from Huawei was a strategic decision by Baidu to prepare for a future in which Nvidia’s chips might no longer be accessible. 

While Huawei’s Ascend chips are not a one-to-one replacement for Nvidia’s products, they provide Chinese tech companies like Baidu with a viable option amid growing uncertainties in the supply chain.

Huawei’s Role in the Transition

Huawei’s Ascend chips have gained recognition as a domestic alternative for AI chip needs in China. They represent a significant step in reducing reliance on foreign technology. Huawei’s partnership with Baidu will enhance compatibility between Baidu’s Ernie AI model and Huawei’s Ascend chips.

As Baidu and other Chinese tech giants explore these alternatives, Huawei is well-positioned to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of AI chip procurement in China. This order for AI chips is just one of several recent developments highlighting Huawei’s continued progress in the semiconductor industry. 

The Chinese tech giant has significantly invested in its domestic semiconductor capabilities, aiming to catch up with overseas competitors. The company’s ability to develop its processors, as seen in its new smartphone, demonstrates its commitment to technological advancement despite international constraints. 

As the U.S. curbs continue to affect the availability of foreign technology, Huawei is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the growing demand for domestic alternatives.

 State-owned firms are encouraged to replace foreign technology with domestic solutions, further propelling Huawei’s growth in its $7 billion home market. 

Also, there has been a resurgence of Huawei’s in-house chip design unit, HiSilicon, which supplies Chinese-made processors for surveillance cameras. As Huawei continues to make strides in semiconductor technology, it will lead in shaping the future of AI chip procurement in China.

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