Huawei has made a point of moving away from using hardware and software built by competitors over the past year. Government officials in the US and elsewhere have continually pushed to make cooperation between Huawei and others difficult. Among the more prominent examples of that, the US placed Huawei on an ‘entity list’ in early 2018. That forbade US companies from working with it.
Now,Huawei is looking to expand its chipset offerings to include graphics processing units (GPUs) and it’s hiring engineers from NVIDIA to do it. That’s based on recent reports stemming from South Korea. The implication is that Huawei will soon be setting up shop in the country. The new team will be dedicated to competing directly with NVIDIA on GPUs.
The GPUs in question won’t be competing against that company on desktop platforms, however. There’s already a fairly robust level of competition in that space. Instead, it will be pushing its efforts toward GPUs that are usable in its own servers. But those may also find use in cloud computing platforms and elsewhere.
a decision by Huawei to hire on NVIDIA workers to develop GPUs is hardly surprising. That’s a space that other company currently dominates to a large extent. But Huawei isn’t without experience in the realm of GPUs either.
Not only does Hauwei have its own line of chipsets with the multi-purpose Ascend-series AI chips. It’s been working for years with its subsidiary HiSilicon. The latter company’s Kirin-series chips have become synonymous with AI SoCs since that’s been Huawei’s focus for its phones. Among the offerings put forward by HiSilicon is the recently launched Kirin 820 5G.
As the branding implies, that’s an AI-heavy chipset geared at bringing 5G in the mid-range price bracket.
While AI may seem unrelated to the GPU industry, that’s just one technology of many that rely heavily on GPUs and GPU-like computing. In fact, GPUs are among the best chipsets for running AI. So Huawei already has its foot in the door via its work with AI.
For the time being, Huawei’s chipsets — including HiSilicon SoCs — are heavily reliant on other industry leaders. In particular, the Kirin chipsets rely on GPUs built by MediaTek. Specifically, those are MediaTek’s Mali-branded graphics chips. Given that MediaTek has recently been called out for cheating on benchmark tests, that’s not necessarily a good look for the company.
Does this have any mobile implications?
Whether or not the rumors about a new series of Huawei GPUs built by ex-NVIDIA employees are true remains to be seen. But the development, if true, could have resounding implications for the mobile industry too.