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US needs smarter plan to cut off China’s chip supply, Arm CEO

The US government’s goal of cutting off Chinese access to sophisticated semiconductors with military uses will be difficult to carry out with export controls, according to Arm Holdings Plc boss Rene Haas.

“This is a hard problem to solve by just coming up with a list of components that are deemed critical and then applying some kind of guidance against it,” he said Tuesday at the WSJ Tech Live conference in Laguna Beach, California.

Arm licenses processor designs to the world’s biggest chipmakers, and its technology is ubiquitous across mobile devices today. It’s at the heart of Apple Inc.’s in-house chips and increasingly expanding into more power-intensive tasks like data center, artificial intelligence and automotive applications.

Arm’s chief executive officer made the remarks following new rules issued Tuesday by the Biden administration, which seeks to make it tougher for China to bring in cutting-edge semiconductors and equipment. The US government put out a roughly 450-page notice on the restrictions, which Arm is now evaluating, Haas said.

In large part, the effort aims to control the distribution of powerful GPUs, or graphics processor units. Nvidia Corp. is the leading seller of GPUs used to power artificial intelligence systems, and it’s now figuring out how to adjust to the stricter controls.

But GPUs are part of a wide range of components that go into computing systems, including the central processing unit, Haas said.

“The GPUs require CPUs; the GPUs require memory; the GPUs require power amplifiers,” he said. “The list of materials that go on to a circuit board is pretty vast.”

There may be different guidance in terms of where the thresholds should be, he said. “It’s a very hard problem to get right in terms of if you’re trying to curb access completely.” Bloomberg

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