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Sources report Nvidia reduces China prices amid Huawei chip battle

ByYasmeeta Oon

May 26, 2024
Sources report Nvidia reduces China prices amid Huawei chip battle

Sources report Nvidia reduces China prices amid Huawei chip battle

SINGAPORE – Nvidia’s most advanced AI chip developed for the China market has started off weakly, with an abundant supply forcing it to be priced below a rival chip from Chinese tech giant Huawei, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The flattening prices underscore the challenges Nvidia’s China business faces amid U.S. sanctions on AI chip exports and heightened competition, casting a cloud over its future in a market that contributed 17% to its revenue for fiscal 2024.

The growing competitive pressure in China also adds a cautionary note to investors in the U.S. semiconductor designer as its shares extended a stunning rally following Wednesday’s bumper revenue forecast.

Nvidia, which dominates the market for artificial intelligence (AI) chips, introduced three chips tailored for China late last year after U.S. sanctions prevented it from exporting its most advanced semiconductors. Among those chips, the H20 is the most closely watched as it’s the most powerful Nvidia product sold in China. However, three supply chain sources told Reuters there is an abundant supply of the chip in the market, signaling weak demand.

The H20 chips are being sold at an over 10% discount to Huawei’s Ascend 910B, the most powerful AI chip from a Chinese company, according to two of the three sources who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Analysts suggest that while Nvidia is trying hard to capture share in a market it cannot afford to lose, the outlook remains uncertain. China’s global share of the AI industry is projected to exceed 30% by 2035, according to a report by Chinese market research firm CCID Consulting.

“Nvidia is walking a fine line and working on a balancing act between maintaining the Chinese market and navigating U.S. tensions,” said Hebe Chen, a market analyst at IG. “Nvidia is definitely preparing for the worst in the long term.”

During Nvidia’s first-quarter earnings on Wednesday, senior executives warned that the company’s business in China is “substantially” lower than in the past due to the sanctions. “Our data center revenue in China is down significantly from the level prior to the imposition of the new export control restrictions in October,” said CFO Colette Kress. “We expect the market in China to remain very competitive going forward.”

Analysts noted that the H20’s performance will be a major factor for its business in China, while longer-term prospects will depend on how it competes with home-grown tech giant Huawei. Huawei began to challenge Nvidia last year, and sources have said the Guangdong-based company will dramatically increase its shipments of its Ascend 910B chip this year, which outperforms the H20 in some key metrics.

In the past six months, only five state or state-affiliated buyers have expressed interest in purchasing H20 chips, compared with over a dozen for Huawei’s 910B in the same period, according to Reuters’s checks on available government procurement data. This data, while not exhaustive, suggests a significant difference in market demand.

Pricing Comparison Table:

Chip ModelPrice per Card (Yuan)Price per 8-Card Server (Yuan)
Nvidia H20100,0001.1 – 1.3 million
Huawei 910B120,000+1.3 – 1.5 million

Nvidia’s H800 and A800 chips are banned in China due to U.S. sanctions aimed at limiting China’s capabilities in becoming a tech powerhouse. Other advanced product lines, including H100 and B100, have also been banned.

Another major stumbling block to the success of Nvidia’s H20 chip in China has been a directive by Beijing for companies to buy Chinese chips, although two of the three sources said those orders had eased in recent months.

The H20 became widely available in China last month, with deliveries to clients in little over a month, according to sources. Some of China’s technology giants have already made orders, with Alibaba ordering over 30,000 H20 chips, according to two sources. Alibaba did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Server distributors in China are selling the H20 at prices around 100,000 yuan per card, and the eight-card server for around 1.1 million yuan to 1.3 million yuan per server, according to sources. In comparison, distributors are selling the Huawei 910B at above 120,000 yuan per card, while its eight-card server equivalent starts at 1.3-1.5 million yuan per server. Prices for both the H20 and Huawei’s 910B can fluctuate depending on the size of orders placed.

Dylan Patel, founder of research group SemiAnalysis, said close to a million H20 chips will be shipped to China in the second half of 2024 and Nvidia must compete with Huawei on pricing. “The H20 cost more than an H100 to manufacture due to its higher memory capacity,” Patel said, adding that it is being sold at half the price of the H100, referring to the powerful Nvidia chip banned from export to China in 2022. “This is a dramatic decrease in margin.”

Nvidia faces several key challenges in the Chinese market:

  • U.S. Sanctions: The export restrictions significantly limit Nvidia’s product offerings in China.
  • Domestic Competition: Huawei’s increasing dominance and performance advantages pose a significant threat.
  • Pricing Pressures: Nvidia is forced to sell its H20 chips at a discount, squeezing profit margins.
  • Government Policies: Directives favoring domestic chips further complicate Nvidia’s market position.

As Nvidia navigates these challenges, the company’s strategy and adaptability will be crucial. Investors and industry watchers will closely monitor how Nvidia balances its market share ambitions in China with the geopolitical and economic realities imposed by U.S. sanctions and local competition.

In conclusion, Nvidia’s H20 chip faces an uphill battle in China. Despite the company’s efforts to maintain its market presence, the combination of abundant supply, competitive pricing pressures, and the overarching impact of U.S. sanctions creates an uncertain future for Nvidia’s business in this critical market. As China continues to expand its share of the global AI industry, Nvidia’s ability to innovate and adapt will be pivotal in determining its long-term success.

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Yasmeeta Oon

Just a girl trying to break into the world of journalism, constantly on the hunt for the next big story to share.

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