How the Chinese buy RTX 4090 to bypass sanctions, turning them into AI accelerators
The surge in interest in the development and use of artificial intelligence, combined with US sanctions restrictions, has put Chinese manufacturers and developers in a difficult position. America banned NVIDIA from exporting RTX 4090 and other powerful GPUs. Craftsmen then modify the maps so that they can be used on the servers.
How video cards prohibited for export are procured
According to the report, citizens of China’s neighboring countries are not averse to profiting from the West’s confrontation with China. They massively buy ready-made computers with GeForce RTX 4090 and resell them in China. For example, in an attempt to make quick money, someone bought 20 powerful computers in Taipei (Taiwan) and resold video adapters on the black market. The cost of one such computer is more than $4,500, and the cost of the entire batch of 20 devices cost more than $91,000. After the purchase, the computers are disassembled, and the video card is sold on the Chinese black market for more than it was bought with the computer.
Recently, Nvidia created a limited version of the coveted GeForce RTX 4090D processor specifically for the Chinese market, trying to technically bypass the sanctions. But small entrepreneurs in Asian countries continue to buy the graphics accelerator for its further resale in China. Sellers of equipment tried to avoid such a situation, using the tactic of selling complete computers. However, the need to buy expensive high-end equipment did not reduce this demand, since the profit from the sale of the chip in the PRC more than covers all costs.
Currently, in Taiwan, the GeForce RTX 4090 card can be purchased separately only on the PCHome24 website, without the need to purchase the entire computer kit. However, the purchase is possible only when the buyer is authenticated through a local SIM card, so it will not work to resell the processor secretly. Today, this is the most protected sales option from dishonest resellers. The cheapest video cards on the site cost about $2,000 excluding 5% VAT.
Presumably, the increased interest in RTX 4090 has affected the computer market in Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and other countries. In the cities from where you can sell a graphics processor to China, prices for computer equipment have increased by up to 60%.
This video card is currently the fastest and is suitable for professional use, including for developers of artificial intelligence technologies. In gaming tests, the GeForce RTX 4090 is 35% faster than the RTX 4080 and 51% faster than AMD’s RX 7900 XTX.
Despite the fact that NVIDIA released a high-quality, but limited version of this processor called the 4090D for China, the demand for the flagship model of the chip does not decrease. This is due to the price of the 4090D, which remains very high at $1599. The manufacturers recommend setting the same price for the RTX 4090, but the demand has caused a price increase of at least 20% at official retailers.
But Chinese developers have no choice but to buy GPUs from resellers at a huge markup. One of the co-owners of an artificial intelligence startup in Hong Kong said that bans on the export of US goods could lead to the collapse of the business. Therefore, the black market continues to flourish. Even in the largest Huaqiangbei market, which is famous for a huge number of handicrafts and peddlers, you can’t buy an RTX 4090 quickly. It will take 3-4 days.
And what do they do with video cards?
Even before the ban on the purchase of video cards, companies from the PRC managed to purchase a huge number of video cards. A customization scheme for such modules was previously developed so that they could be turned into AI accelerators. The Chinese have developed a new scheme for them, so after finalizing the 4090 cards, they no longer occupy 3-4 slots in the block, but only 2. So, they can be installed in the server.
At the same time, the work is quite painstaking, since most operations have to be performed manually. The Chinese disassemble the cards, eliminating the cooling system and the main components. To create an II-accelerator, a special board has been developed, on which these components are transferred. The final product works well in the servers, doing the required PRC work.
The whole process is quite complicated, almost all stages are implemented by people, so it is necessary to carefully check the performance of the adapters. The Chinese do this very carefully. In addition to specialized software, such as Furmark, cards are also tested in artificial intelligence applications. If all goes well, the new product is sent to Chinese companies that develop AI services.
The hybrid graphics adapter is purchased by operators of data centers in China, companies that produce solutions for the AI industry. The country’s domestic market is really very large, so it really makes sense for companies that recycle new graphics adapters to do this kind of work. It is still unclear why Chinese companies still prefer to overpay and dupe to buy the RTX 4090 video adapter, if the RTX 4090D version has only 10% fewer cores and is much cheaper. It looks like all their efforts have been worth it.
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