China's Largest GPU Developer Slashes Headcount Due to U.S. Sanctions

Biren Technology
(Image credit: Biren Technology)

Biren Technology reportedly plans to lay off one-third of its staff just a week after Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. halted shipments of compute GPUs to Biren because of limitations against the Chinese supercomputer sector by the U.S. If the information is accurate, this will severely affect Biren's ability to develop its GPUs as well as software for artificial intelligence as well as high-performance computing applications.

Since it is unclear whether Biren will be able to get its processors from TSMC any time soon, the company reportedly plans to lay off one-third of its personnel, reports citing sources familiar with the matter. But slashing headcount severely affects Biren's ability to develop future chips and software, which ultimately means that its competitive positions against AMD and Nvidia will weaken considerably.

Biren specializes in AI and HPC GPUs, and its top-of-the-range BR100 offering can compete against Nvidia's A100 and H100 compute GPUs in specific workloads. Biren outsources the production of its processors that contain tens of billions of transistors to TSMC. Starting in early October, such chips cannot be imported to China if made using U.S. technologies (including electronic design automation tools, wafer fab equipment, etc.).

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Biren BR104Biren BR100Nvidia A100Nvidia H100
Form-FactorFHFL CardOAM ModuleSXM4SXM5
Transistor Count?77 billion54.2 billion80 billion
FP32 TFLOPS12825619.560
TF32+ TFLOPS256512??
TF32 TFLOPS??156/312*500/1000*
FP16 TFLOPS??78120
FP16 TFLOPS Tensor??312/624*1000/2000*
BF16 TFLOPS512102439120
BF16 TFLOPS Tensor??312/624*1000/2000*
INT8 TFLOPS Tensor??624/1248*2000/4000*

The U.S. sanctions against Chinese AI and supercomputer industries are rather strict yet vaguely written. Specifically, AI and HPC chips shipped to China cannot enable machines with the performance of over 100 FP64 PetaFLOPS or over 200 FP32 PetaFLOPS within 41,600 cubic feet (1178 cubic meters). Furthermore, the supercomputer cannot have a throughput of more than 600 GB/s.

While it is not completely clear whether Biren's BR104 cards or BR100 OAM modules can enable supercomputers with performance that exceeds curbs imposed by the U.S. (to a large degree because Biren does not disclose all performance numbers), TSMC does not want to take any risks and ship Biren's supercomputer chips to China before it can verify that they do not break any U.S. export rules. Meanwhile, China is the primary market for Biren, and it cannot re-orient to other countries quickly. As a consequence, for now, Biren's future looks rather gloomy.

Anton Shilov
Contributing Writer

Anton Shilov is a contributing writer at Tom’s Hardware. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • PlaneInTheSky
    TSMC does not want to take any risks and ship Biden's supercomputer chips to China before it can verify that they do not break any U.S. export rules.

    Taiwan and TSMC have done a good job fooling the West that they are just operating chip factories in Taiwan.

    TSMC has many chip factories in mainland China. TSMC has a giant factory in Shanghai, right next to China's biggest chipmaker, SMIC.

    Employees go back and forth between these companies all the time.

    This idea that you can contain China's chip ambitions without restraining TSMC is ridiculous. If you want to stop China's chip ambitions, you need to stop TSMC too.
  • daworstplaya
    Hopefully this means there is less demand for TSMC's chip production capacity, which might means cheaper prices for everyone else.