SMIC’s Next Generation Process
Since we revealed our initial findings on the MinerVa Bitcoin mining processor, we have had incredible interest from industry and media. Although not at the level of the big three foundry service providers, SMIC has demonstrated its ability to fabricate 7nm features. The last node we saw from SMIC was 14nm, so this is a big jump in technology.
In addition to the technical interest, with the ongoing geopolitical focus on China, we are getting numerous questions about the effectiveness of US sanctions given what we’re seeing out of SMIC.
TechInsights is first and foremost focused on supporting innovation and decision making. Because of the far-reaching interest in this latest technology, we thought we would share some of the discussions we’ve been having. Here are a few of the common questions we are seeing, and our corresponding answers.
Does your analysis reveal which process tools were used to manufacture the chip?
Our analysis reveals the structures, materials, and dimensions of the technology. In this case, it shows that SMIC has been able to fabricate features that are small enough to be considered 7nm. It shows the materials they used and the “shape” of the structures. However, there is no way to specifically identify which semiconductor processing tools were used to fabricate the chip.
Could SMIC have manufactured the chips without US technology?
SMIC has been working on the development of 7nm technology for many years. One of the main challenges and key technology in fabricating at the latest nodes is lithography. As nodes get smaller and smaller, the need for EUV lithography gets more and more important. However, 7nm features can still be fabricated without EUV. It adds a lot of complexity to the design, but 7nm chips can be fabricated with earlier, DUV technology. DUV tools are more widely accessible and have been in the market for many years.
Why isn’t SMIC heavily advertising their 7 nm process?
We have no way of knowing. Given the complexity of fabricating at 7nm, and especially given constraints in fabricating 7nm without EUV, we expect that their production capability is very limited.
Is this chip showing that US sanctions aren’t working?
As mentioned above, R&D in semiconductor fabrication takes years, and we know SMIC has been working on 7nm for a long time. We also know that China has invested heavily over the past several years on domestic R&D and fabrication of advanced semiconductors.
As our analysis continues and we have further conversations with the market, we will continue posting our results and analysis as we go. We’ll make sure you can stay as up-to-date as possible on this latest technology from SMIC.