Chinese manufacturer SMIC is shipping 7nm chips despite sanctions
SMIC's 7nm technology has been used to create MinerVa Bitcoin mining SoCs
Published: 21st July 2022 | Source: Tech Insights |
SMIC's 7nm node appears to be a "close copy of TSMC"
Despite heavy sanctions, SMIC, a Chinese semiconductor company, has managed to create chips using a 7nm lithography technology, making them the first company to create 7nm silicon on Chinese soil.
Tech Insights has managed to gain access to MinerVa Bitcoin mining SoCs, 7nm chips that were made by SMIC. When analysing these chips from SMIC, Tech Insights stated that "initial images suggest it is a close copy of TSMC 7nm process technology," alleging that SMIC has copied TSMC's technology.
SMIC has been sued in the past by TSMC for copying their technology, though Tech Insights has noted that SMIC's 7nm technology is behind TSMCs. Beyond that, TSMC has already moved beyond 7nm, leaving SMIC behind its non-Chinese rivals.
International sections have prevented China from gaining access to the latest manufacturing technologies. Specifically, China's inability to access ASML's EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet) technology acts as a major roadblock for Chinese semiconductor companies like SMIC. While TSMC's early 7nm lithography nodes did not utilise EUV technology, newer versions of 7nm and newer, smaller, nodes make heavy use of this technology. Right now, China cannot access EUV machines to develop mode advanced lithography nodes.
While SMIC has created 7nm chips, it appears to have only been used to create small chip designs for low volume products. This suggests that SMIC's 7nm currently has poor yields, making the node less economical than competing nodes from Samsung, Intel, and TSMC. It is likely that SMIC will improve its technology to create larger, more complex 7nm chips in the future.
(Image from Tech Insights)
Currently, the US is said to be exploring further sanctions against China, to limit the country's access to DUV (Deep Ultra Violet) chipmaking machines. DUV technology is less advanced to EUV, and these tools are what SMIC are using to create their 7nm technology. Tighter sanctions will slow China's semiconductor advances, though it is worth noting that China is currently investing heavily to create their own chipmaking tools and software ecosystem. In time, China may be able to make its own DUV and EUV machines, making western sanctions pointless. Even so, it is unknown how long it will take China to make these advances.
While SMIC's 7nm technology is far what TSMC and Samsung currently offer, it highlights how quickly China's semiconductor industry is advancing. In time, China may no longer need to rely on western technologies to create advanced semiconductors, increasing their technological independence.