Huawei Technologies has unveiled a new high-end artificial intelligence (AI) chip for servers, bidding to grow its share of the booming cloud services market even as the world’s largest network equipment vendor battles a US trade ban.

Ascend 910, an AI processor first mentioned by Huawei in Shanghai last year, is the “world’s most powerful AI processor” targeted at AI model training, the company said in a press release on Friday. Huawei added that it sees AI as a “general purpose technology” that can be used in almost every sector of the economy.

Huawei increasingly has to rely on its own tech as the prospect of being barred from buying US tech looms. (Picture: Aly Song/Reuters)

“The Ascend 910 has performed much better than initial expectations,” said Eric Xu Zhijun, Huawei’s rotating chairman at the media launch in Shenzhen. “Without doubt, it has more computing power than any other AI processor in the world.”

Although AI is still in the early stages of development, Huawei said it is committed to providing stronger computing power to increase the speed of complex AI models, making the technology more affordable and effective.

The “holy grail” of AI hardware is flexible, high-performance chips for training machine learning. Until now, only Nividia, and to a lesser extent Google, have been able to develop hardware for machine-learning training that AI researchers have widely adopted.

For Huawei’s latest chip to be a game-changer, it would need to mount a serious challenge to Nvidia’s GPU or Google’s TPU, said Lorand Laskai, a visiting researcher at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University.

“Even though Huawei designs many of its chip in-house, it still relies on a number of key Western technologies, making it vulnerable to US blacklisting. AI chips are no different,” said Laskai.

On Monday Huawei was granted another temporary 90 days reprieve by the US from its trade blacklisting, lasting until November 19. The company was banned from buying American technology by the US Commerce Department in mid-May on national security grounds. The chip launch is seen as a counter-attack by Huawei.

Huawei also launched MindSpore in Shenzhen on Friday, an AI computing framework that supports the development of AI applications. The Chinese company aims to offer a portfolio of AI products to meet the different needs of businesses and consumers.

The Chinese company officially unveiled its self-made operating system, Harmony OS, in China earlier this month, saying it could be used on its new phones if access to Google’s Android OS is permanently cut off.

“Huawei is desperate to escape its dependence on US technology,” said James Lewis, senior vice-president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “In some areas, such as memory, operating systems, they will succeed and relatively soon. But in many other areas, Huawei is still years behind in many key technologies.”

Xu separately said that the US export restrictions could cut revenue by more than US$10 billion. The company is also looking into replacing key US suppliers Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys, he said.

--With additional reporting by agencies

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