Nvidia has launched a modified version of its flagship RTX 4090 graphics card called the RTX 4090D, designed specifically for the Chinese market. The new GPU complies with recent US export restrictions on advanced semiconductors destined for China.
Background on US Chip Export Controls
In October 2022, the US Commerce Department unveiled sweeping regulations to limit China’s ability to access advanced computing chips, develop supercomputers, and manufacture advanced semiconductors. These export controls targeted Nvidia’s top AI accelerators like the A100 and H100 which power data centers.
The export bans forced Nvidia to halt all exports of its top AI chips to China which impacted major customers like Alibaba Cloud and Inspur. However, the gaming-focused GeForce RTX 40 series GPUs were not restricted at the time.
Nvidia Launches Custom RTX 4090D to Bypass Controls
To comply with the spirit of the US export regulations and serve the large Chinese market, Nvidia has launched the GeForce RTX 4090D graphics card specifically for China.
The RTX 4090D uses a different mix of cores compared to the standard RTX 4090 to limit its AI/compute capabilities while maintaining gaming performance. Key specs of the new GPU include:
- 14,592 CUDA cores (vs 16,384 on RTX 4090)
- 72 3rd-gen Tensor cores (vs 144 on RTX 4090)
- 384 3rd-gen RT cores
- 24GB GDDR6X memory
- 425W TDP
Reducing the tensor core count limits the card’s performance for AI workloads like training neural networks. But gaming, graphics, and other workloads are unaffected.
The RTX 4090D delivers equivalent gaming performance to the fully unlocked RTX 4090. Nvidia will sell the card for ¥9,999 in China (around $1,500), similar to US pricing.
Why Nvidia Must Launch a Custom GPU
The RTX 4090D allows Nvidia to continue serving gaming customers in China without running afoul of US export laws.
China is the world’s largest gaming market, so Nvidia cannot afford to ignore it despite political tensions. The company earned 26% of its gaming revenue from China last year.
Industry watchers note that if Nvidia halted GPU shipments to China completely, it would only embolden homegrown competitors like Biren Technology to fill the void. Hence a custom China-only GPU is a reasonable compromise.
What Happens Next
The RTX 4090D will be sold by add-in board partners like Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI. It is expected to hit retail in China by late January 2023.
Nvidia will closely monitor sales and reception of the new GPU by Chinese gamers. If successful, it could take a similar approach for data center GPUs to unlock those markets.
It remains to be seen if the US government views this as a circumvention of export controls. If Chinese customers use the RTX 4090D for unauthorized AI development, Nvidia could face blacklisting and further crackdowns.
Impacts on Nvidia’s Business
Though not ideal, analysts see the RTX 4090D launch as a net positive for Nvidia’s China strategy. Even with its limited AI capabilities, the GPU gives Nvidia access to the valuable Chinese gaming and creative markets.
|Can still serve Chinese gaming demand, but GPU specs are restricted
|Negative in short term
|Top AI chips still blocked from export to China
|Gaming franchises protected but data center faces volatility depending on China-US relations
|Flat to slightly increased
|Reduces some regulatory overhang, but China challenges persist
The saga also highlights the increasing clash between US security priorities and China’s tech ambitions. Nvidia and other chip firms must carefully balance compliance and market share moving forward.
The launch of the RTX 4090D GPU shows Nvidia’s willingness to adapt its product strategy to suit rapidly shifting geopolitical trends. While not an ideal outcome, the restricted graphics card keeps Nvidia’s foot in the door with Chinese gamers and creators.
However, if tensions continue to escalate, Nvidia and its US peers face an uphill battle to operate smoothly in China without triggering backlash from either side. Diplomatic solutions that protect security while supporting technological progress will benefit both nations in the long run.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.