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China downgrades AI chips to secure TSMC production

Chinese fabless artificial intelligence chip makers have downgraded their designs to retain access to production in Taiwan after the United States tightened its chip export controls last October.

MetaX and Enflame, two Shanghai-based graphic processing unit (GPU) designers, submitted downgraded designs of their chips to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) in late 2023 to meet the US chip export requirement, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

MetaX has developed a GPU called the C280 for TSMC production after its most advanced C500 chips ran out of stock earlier this year, according to the report. TSMC told Reuters that it works with clients to make sure it is in compliance with jurisdictions relevant to its operations.

However, it is questionable whether TSMC had ever started the mass production of C500 chips for MetaX.

Public information gathered by Asia Times showed that MetaX finished the basic testing of the C500 chips on June 13 last year and planned to begin the mass production at the end of the same year. Such a plan could have been disrupted by the US curbs.

On October 17 last year, the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) unveiled a set of new rules stating that a chip with a total processing performance of 4,800 or more or a performance density of 5.92 or more will be banned from being shipped to China.

The new rules blocked the shipment of Nvidia’s A800 and H800 chips to China. It is said that A800’s performance has reached 70% of that of A100. In October 2022, the BIS banned A100’s shipment to China.

According to Chinese media, MetaX’s C500 chip is something in between A100 and A800. It has computing power of 15 trillion floating point operations per second (Tflops) at a