US gov fires a warning shot at Nvidia: 'We cannot let China get these chips... If you redesign a chip that enables them to do AI, I'm going to control it the very next day'

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang
(Image credit: Nvidia)

Nvidia's penchant for redesigning its GPUs to get around US export restrictions has seemingly been directly called out by the US Commerce Secretary, with a warning that when such a redesign is created, "I'm going to control it the very next day."

Since 2022, US chip sanctions have continued to make life somewhat difficult for manufacturers looking to export their products to certain countries, chief among them being China. However, that hasn't stopped Nvidia from attempting to work its way around the export bans by releasing products that circumvent the current restrictions, introducing slightly redesigned models produced exclusively for the Chinese market. 

It's been an entertaining power play, but US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo appears to have had her fill of the one up-manship. According to Fortune (Via Videocardz), she made some particularly pointed comments on the subject during the Reagan National Defense Forum in California on Saturday.

"We cannot let China get these chips, period," she said. "We're going to deny them our most cutting edge technology."

And then more pointedly: "If you redesign a chip around a particular cut line that enables them to do AI, I'm going to control it the very next day"

Given Nvidia GPUs and its associated Tensor cores are particularly efficient at working with AI, it's no surprise the change in language here is becoming more direct and the comments more pointed. Nvidia in particular has been quick to redesign its products to beat the sanctions, including what appears to be a hamstrung RTX 4090 designed to get past the restriction on total processing performance (TTP) and performance density (TD), the two metrics currently used to judge whether a consumer GPU can be exported to restricted markets.

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Of course, it's not just China that chipmakers are currently restricted from exporting to, but it appears clear from these comments that stopping the supply here is the focus for the US Department of Commerce. However, China represents a gigantic market for any chipmaker, and it's no surprise that a game of whack-a-mole would begin between those who make the restrictions and those who seek to make a profit.

It wasn't long ago that it was reported that Chinese companies are buying up US chipmaking equipment to make advanced semiconductors of their own, so it seems that one way or the other China will eventually be able to supply itself with powerful hardware capable of handling heavy AI workloads regardless.

In the meantime, the game continues. The discourse is starting to heat up, and we'll be interested to see what the next moves will be from either side.  

Andy Edser
Hardware Writer

Andy built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 12, when IDE cables were a thing and high resolution wasn't. After spending over 15 years in the production industry overseeing a variety of live and recorded projects, he started writing his own PC hardware blog for a year in the hope that people might send him things. Sometimes they did.

Now working as a hardware writer for PC Gamer, Andy can be found quietly muttering to himself and drawing diagrams with his hands in thin air. It's best to leave him to it.