In a high-stakes game of technological chess, Chinese AI chip companies are making strategic moves to retain access to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) production. Facing U.S. sanctions and export controls, these firms are downgrading their chip designs to stay in the game. Let’s dive into the details and explore the implications of this intriguing development.

The Context

Washington’s export controls have targeted sophisticated processors, including those from Nvidia, and chip manufacturing equipment. As a result, TSMC, a global leader in chip contract manufacturing, faces restrictions on taking orders for these advanced chips. This situation has exposed China’s limited production capacity for cutting-edge chips and highlighted its dependence on TSMC.

The Players

Two prominent Chinese AI chip firms, MetaX and Enflame, have taken action. Previously marketing their chips as comparable to Nvidia’s GPUs, they submitted downgraded designs to TSMC in late 2023. Let’s take a closer look at each player:

  • MetaX
    Founded in 2020 by former Advanced Micro Devices executives.
    Developed the C280, a downgraded product, after running out of stock of its advanced GPU, the C500, in China.
    Recently gained government funding for a domestically produced high-level AI training chip.

  • Enflame
    Founded in 2018 and backed by tech giant Tencent.
    Raised $2.7 billion last year.
    Collaborated with local governments on projects.

The Strategic Move

By downgrading their designs, MetaX and Enflame secure their foothold in TSMC’s production pipeline. But what does this mean for the broader landscape of AI chip development?

Evaluative Opinion

I see this move as both pragmatic and risky. On one hand, it allows these companies to maintain access to TSMC’s cutting-edge facilities. On the other hand, it signals a setback in their pursuit of technological excellence. By positioning themselves as “little giants,” they balance survival with ambition.


The battle for AI supremacy continues, with MetaX, Enflame, and other Chinese startups vying for a seat at the table. I’ll be watching closely to see how these downgraded designs impact the future of AI innovation. Share this article with your network—it’s a story worth discussing!

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