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Nvidia unveils flagship AI chip, the B200, aiming to extend dominance


A smartphone with a displayed NVIDIA logo is placed on a computer motherboard in this illustration, March 6, 2023. /Reuters
A smartphone with a displayed NVIDIA logo is placed on a computer motherboard in this illustration, March 6, 2023. /Reuters

A smartphone with a displayed NVIDIA logo is placed on a computer motherboard in this illustration, March 6, 2023. /Reuters

Nvidia Chief Executive Jensen Huang on Monday kicked off his company's annual developer conference with a slew of announcements designed to keep the chip maker in a dominant position in the artificial-intelligence industry.

On a hockey arena stage in the heart of Silicon Valley, Huang introduced Nvidia's latest chip, which is 30 times speedier at some tasks than its predecessor.

He also detailed a new set of software tools to help developers sell AI models more easily to companies that use technology from Nvidia, whose customers include most of the world's biggest technology firms.

Nvidia's chip and software announcements at GTC 2024 will help determine whether the company can maintain its 80 percent share of the market for AI chips.

"I hope you realize this is not a concert," Huang said, wearing his signature leather jacket and joking that the day's keynote would be full of dense math and science.

It was a nod to how Nvidia, once mostly known among computer gaming enthusiasts, has earned recognition on par with tech giants like Microsoft and has become a Wall Street standout, with sales that more than doubled in its most recent fiscal year to surpass $60 billion.

Nvidia's new flagship chip, called the B200, takes two squares of silicon the size of the company's previous offering and binds them together into a single component.

While the B200 "Blackwell" chip is 30 times speedier at tasks like serving up answers from chatbots, Huang did not give specific details about how well it performs when chewing through huge amounts of data to train those chatbots – which is the kind of work that has powered most of Nvidia's soaring sales. He also gave no price details.

All together, Huang's announcements failed to provide new fuel for a rally in which Nvidia's shares have surged 240 percent over the past 12 months, making it the U.S. stock market's third-most valuable company, behind only Microsoft and Apple.

Tom Plumb, CEO and portfolio manager at Plumb Funds, whose largest holdings include Nvidia, said the Blackwell chip was not a surprise. "But it reinforces that this company is still at the cutting edge and the leader in all graphics processing. That doesn't mean the market is not going to be big enough for AMD and others to come in. But it shows that their lead is pretty insurmountable," said Plumb.

Nvidia said major customers including Amazon.com, Alphabet's, Google, Microsoft, OpenAI and Oracle are expected to use the new chip in cloud-computing services they sell, and also for their own AI offerings.

Nvidia also is shifting from selling single chips to selling total systems. Its latest iteration houses 72 of its AI chips and 36 central processors. It contains 600,000 parts in total and weighs 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg).

Many analysts expect Nvidia's market share to drop several percentage points in 2024 as new products from competitors come to market and Nvidia's largest customers make their own chips. "Rivals like AMD, Intel, startups, and even Big Tech's own chip aspirations threaten to chip away at Nvidia's market share, particularly among cost-conscious enterprise customers," said Insider Intelligence analyst Jason Bourne.

Human-like robots

At the conference, Nvidia announced a hardware and software platform for building human-like robots that includes generative artificial intelligence features.

The new platform will consist of a computer system that will power the robot and AI, plus a package of software including genAI and other tools in order to build robots that are human-life, the company said.

The addition of genAI will let the humanoid robots take actions based on inputs with a combination of language, video, "human demonstrations," and past experiences. Called Project GR00T, the genAI components will add to the company's existing hardware and software platform for robotics.

"These smarter, faster, better robots will be deployed in the world's heavy industries," said Rev Lebaredian, vice president, Omniverse and Simulation Technology, in a briefing with reporters. "We are working with the world's entire robot and simulation ecosystem to accelerate development and adoption."

Evolved software tools

Though Nvidia is widely known for its hardware offerings, the company has built a significant battery of software products as well.

The new software tools, called microservices, improve system efficiency across a wide variety of uses, making it easier for a business to incorporate an AI model into its work, just as a good computer operating system can help apps work well.

In addition to AI software, Nvidia dived deeper into software for emulating the physical world with 3-D models. For work on designing cars, jets and products, Huang also announced partnerships with design software companies Ansys, Cadence and Synopsys. Shares of the three companies jumped around 3 percent in extended trade following Huang's comments.

Huang also said that Nvidia's software would be able to stream 3-D worlds to Apple's new Vision Pro headset.

Nvidia also introduced a new line of chips designed for cars with new capabilities to run chatbots inside the vehicle. The company deepened its already-extensive relationships with Chinese automakers, saying that electric vehicle makers BYD and Xpeng will both use its new chips.

(With input from Reuters)

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