Chinese companies are using repurposed Nvidia gaming chips to power AI hardware in the wake of strengthening US sanctions against the export of cutting-edge AI chips to the country.

The US is currently engaged in a trade war with China, imposing restrictions on the export of chips to China in order to stop the country from having access to advanced technology that could be used for military modernization and human rights abuses.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 Graphics Card
– Nvidia

Citing factory managers and chip buyers familiar with the situation, the FT reports that as a result of these sanctions, thousands of Nvidia gaming chips are having their core components installed onto new circuit boards so companies can attempt to harness the raw computing power.

The report said that while in theory, this technique provides a solution to the challenges facing Chinese companies trying to acquire high-end processors, gaming chips are less capable when it comes to performing the high-precision calculations needed to train LLMs with big data sets.

According to one of the factory managers cited, over 4,000 Nvidia gaming chips were disassembled by workers in December, with the most popular models for repurposing being the GeForce RTX 4090. However, that chip was blocked from sale in China in October 2023.

In order to comply with the latest wave of sanctions, Nvidia has been developing less powerful versions of their chips for sale in China, including the GeForce RTX 4090 D, which is 5 percent slower than versions sold outside China and would be even less suited for LLM training.