25 July 2022 12:52
Chinese SMIC copied 7nm chip technology from TSMC, which refused to cooperate with Russia. SMIC is still training on the production of simple chips according to a new technical process for itself and in the near future may move on to assembling more complex products. Russian companies, in theory, can give unrealized orders to TSMC specifically to the Chinese SMIC.
China honors “traditions”
Chinese contract chip manufacturer SMIC has been accused of copying chip manufacturing technologies, according to Tom’s Hardware. This conclusion was made by experts from the analytical company TechInsights after studying the structure of the SMIC MinerVa chip.
TSMC is the world’s largest chipmaker with orders from AMD, Apple, Qualcomm and a host of other world-renowned companies. It took 53.6% of global chip manufacturing revenue in Q1 2022 (data from Statista.com), leaving Samsung 16.3% UMC 6.9%, Globalfoundries 5.9% and China’s SMIC 5.6%.
TechInsights is engaged in the opening of various microcircuits and their independent analysis. She studied the MinerVa ASIC chip and concluded that TSMC-owned technologies were used in its production.
SMIC actively masters technologies of competitors
This is not the first case of this kind – TSMC has repeatedly sued its Chinese competitor for stealing its developments. She filed such lawsuits in 2002 and 2006, and the TechInsights statement could be the subject of new proceedings.
Benefits for Russia
A fact revealed by TechInsights indicates that SMIC is mass-producing 7nm chips. She herself does not admit it yet. In 2020, she spoke about preparations for the launch of small-scale production of such chips with the second generation N + 1 FinFET process technology. There was no talk about large-scale stamping of microcircuits – officially the company is concentrating on the production of 14- and 12-nanometer products.
Adaptation of Taiwanese TSMC’s SMIC technologies to their needs can be beneficial for Russian chip developers. TSMC flatly refused to cooperate with them, under pressure from the US authorities. They threatened the company with sanctions, and TSMC was forced to refuse to cooperate with MCST, Baikal Electronics and other Russian companies, just as in 2020 it stopped producing chips for Huawei.
As for SMIC, this company, unlike TSMC, is already under US sanctions. Under these conditions, Russian vendors could transfer orders to it that TSMC refused.
It’s too early to rejoice
According to a TechInsights report, the internal layout of the MinerVa cryptocurrency mining chip looks pretty simple. The microcircuit itself has dimensions of only 4.6×4.2 mm. According to experts, this means that SMIC is still in the early stages of mastering the release of 7nm chips.
SMIC is still very far from the heights of TSMC
On the other hand, it cannot be ruled out that SMIC is “filling its hand”, training on the production of such structurally simple microcircuits according to a relatively new technical process. TechInsights analysts believe that in parallel with this, the company is in the process of further debugging this topology. “This low-volume product could be the springboard for a true 7nm process,” TechInsights said in a statement.
USA won’t let it go
According to TechInsights, SMIC lags far behind TSMC and Samsung in terms of the sophistication of its 7nm manufacturing. The report also mentions Intel, but it does not yet have its own 7-nanometer capacities.
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Analysts attribute the backlog of SMIC primarily to US sanctions. In particular, the US authorities put pressure on the Dutch company ASML and banned it from supplying its equipment for EUV lithography to China.
ASML is the world’s largest supplier of hardware for chip manufacturing. What exactly prompted its management to comply with the requirements of the American authorities, which the company does not obey, is unknown.
China seeks by all means to prevent the stagnation of its production of microcircuits
The only obvious result is that at present ASML cannot export EUV equipment to China, which is used to produce chips according to modern standards, including 7 nm. At the beginning of July 2022, there was a threat to stop deliveries to China and DUV plants for less modern technical processes.
This is where the ASML leadership can oppose. As CNews reported, the shipment of equipment to China, even taking into account the restrictions on the supply of EUV units, brings ASML an impressive part of the revenue. The PRC is the company’s third largest market after Taiwan and South Korea, where it is bought by TSMC, SK Hynix and Samsung. In 2021 alone, its activities in the Chinese market brought it within 16% of total sales.