China Circumvents GPU Ban, Now Stripping GeForce RTX 3090 Cards As AI Race Heats Up

When Albert Einstein predicted through special relativity that the speed of light was constant, he ignored one crucial factor. The speed of AI development seems to be the only thing going faster than the speed of light itself, as of late. This law of constant motion results in a new reality that GPUs, which are very capable AI accelerators and can power AI development, are also highly sought after. 

If you thought that the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 were the only consumer GPUs being turned into an AI workforce, you'd be mistaken. The last generation NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 is undergoing a similar fate, being stripped of its gamer accouterments in favor of more data center friendly blower-style coolers and very different workloads. 

NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 air cooler removed and slated for AI (Image: Tieba, Baidu)

The recent bans on NVIDIA GPUs for data centers in China have caused all sorts of commotion in the GPU market. The data center specific AI products have been quickly gobbled up, leaving the most powerful consumer GPUs as the next target. With the privilege of having been named alongside the data center GPUs, the GeForce RTX 4090 was the first to suffer this fate. 

With the stock of GeForce RTX 4090 disappearing rapidly, China has turned to the GeForce RTX 3090 as a backup choice. While the performance is significantly lower than the mighty GeForce RTX 4090, it still packs 24GB of fast VRAM. This makes it a good candidate for those desperate to crunch AI workloads, with large data sets, by any means necessary.

It appears that the logic behind stripping out the original air coolers on these GPUs is to retrofit them with blower-style coolers that are more apt for crowded environments. Noise not being a factor in such places, this makes their use more efficient. Being more closely grouped together and allowing for thermals to be more predictable are key factors. With a blower-style cooler, you're directing air towards the back of the GPU, unlike 3 fan axial designs that distribute air in various directions. 


The US consumer market has noticed a lack of GeForce RTX 4090s on store shelves since the ban took place, and prices have risen considerably. While the older GeForce RTX 3090 is scarce currently at retail with a lot of refurb product in the channel, it may certainly put some pressure on the used market if desperation to acquire these products continues.

Gamers weary of the GPU shortages of the last few years will wince at the thought of another troublesome market, but this time it should potentially be limited to only a few AI friendly GPUs.