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Nvidia dominates in AI, but others are trying to chip away

Meghan McCarty Carino May 22, 2024
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Nvidia dominates in AI, but others are trying to chip away

Meghan McCarty Carino May 22, 2024
Heard on:
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

There’s a new holiday greeting being heard on Wall Street, and it comes four times a year: Happy Nvidia Day. Wednesday the chipmaker reported first-quarter revenue of $26 billion, up 18% from Q4 of last year and up 262% from a year earlier.

The powerful results come after a run that has seen its stock price more than double in less than a year, leading to a valuation north of $2 trillion. That’s because Nvidia is the dominant supplier of chips needed to train and operate large generative artificial intelligence models, which, you may have noticed, are quite the thing.

“Dominant” is maybe an understatement. Nvidia is estimated to control more than 90% of the market for specialized AI chips. But you can bet there are competitors with their eye on a piece of that pie.

Nvidia’s path to superstardom in the AI economy started with a happy accident. The company designs graphics processing units, or GPUs, which were intended to, that’s right, process graphics.

“For a long time, these chips were mostly used in computer gaming,” said Chris Miller, author of “Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology.”

He said GPUs can run multiple calculations at once instead of in a sequence. “And it turned out that that same set of calculations were useful in training and deploying AI systems,” he said.

Nvidia’s leaders leaned into their first-mover advantage, said Daniel Newman, CEO and tech analyst at the Futurum Group.

“Nvidia doesn’t just have a vision of saying, ‘Let’s sell lots of GPUs.’ You know, Nvidia has a vision of owning an AI factory or a stack,” he said.

The company has created a whole ecosystem geared to AI — from networking technology to software. “They’ve basically shortcut the whole process,” Newman said.

That’s why it’s tough for competitors to catch up, said Dan Ives, a technology stock analyst at Wedbush Securities.

“It’s LeBron James playing one on one against a bunch of kindergarteners,” he said.

But some rivals are also making impressive plays: AMD and Intel have processors to rival the performance of Nvidia’s. Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet are making their own. Google’s latest Gemini model was trained entirely on a proprietary AI processor.

“Down the road, this is going to be an AI arms race, a ‘Game of Thrones,'” Ives said.

But for now, he said, Big Tech companies are still shelling out billions to buy up Nvidia’s chips.

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