Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
I looked and could not find what process it will be on. The leading edge from SMIC is around 28nm, which I doubt could compete. OTOH, if this is built at TSMC I have little doubt it could compete with two year old INTC or AMD chips. It is not burdened with X86 compatibility so the design can be fairly simple. My understanding is it is an offshoot of the MIPs design.
SMIC now has a 7nm process that some have described as a “dead end” in terms of future processes but that seems to be able to support the manufacture of at least some advanced chips.
Douglas Fuller, an expert on China’s semiconductor industry, told Financial Times that the furor over SMIC’s 7-nm progress is overblown and that China’s top fab is using extra exposure to make up for the lack of EUV tools. He also resonated doubts about the yield of SMIC’s 7nm chip fabricating process.
According to some industry observers, SMIC’s 7nm yields per wafer are in the range of 15%. That, in turn, makes the chips manufactured at this process node very costly, around 10 times the market price of a chip manufactured at TSMC’s 7nm node. It’s also worth noting that the crypto-miner chip known to have been manufactured at SMIC’s 7nm node features a highly parallel design, which implies lower complexity.
In the final analysis, SMIC’s 7nm story relates more to China’s political cause of semiconductor self-sufficiency than market economics. At the same time, however, it’s a quasi-7nm chip manufacturing process that could become a stepping stone for a true 7nm process node. Here, the missing link is ASML’s EUV technology, currently banned for semiconductor fabs in China.
It’s important to note that after imposing an export ban on the EUV technology, there have been reports about the United States approaching Netherlands’ ASML and Japan’s Nikon to stop the delivery of DUV equipment to China as well. But that’s not likely to matter as fabs in China must have already bought a sufficient number of DUV machines by now. The DUV-based lithography technology has been around since the 1980s.
SMIC has clearly been swimming against the tide in its quest for smaller chip fabrication nodes. Though it’s come a long way since having 28-nm process technology in 2021, its future roadmaps are fraught with gigantic technology hurdles. In retrospect, the shipping of a 7nm chip marks only the first important step amid concerns about yield rate, manufacturing cost, and more importantly, EUV technology embargo.
The Shanghai-based fab is widely known to have accomplished 14-nm FinFET technology, which puts it two generations behind 7 nm and roughly four years behind the most advanced process nodes offered by TSMC and Samsung. But that has suddenly changed after reverse engineering and teardown firm TechInsights revealed SMIC’s rise to 7-nm glory in a blogpost.
In summer 2021, MinerVa Semiconductor Corp. in China showcased a 7-nm chip for Bitcoin mining on its website without naming the manufacturing fab. However, MinerVa is a SMIC customer. Dylan Patel, chief analyst at SemiAnalysis, was the first to spot this development. Next, TechInsights bought the chip on the open market and began analyzing it in its lab.
It has now been found that SMIC has started mass production of chips at the 7-nm process node dubbed N+2. However, the Chinese semiconductor fab hasn’t talked about its 7-nm capability during its earning calls. Industry observers widely believe that SMIC has used its 14-nm FinFET technology to develop the 7nm process node. And that SMIC cannot develop process nodes beyond 7 nm without EUV technology.
Patel, in his blogpost, credits a combination of huge subsidies from the state, poaching TSMC engineers, and large home-grown expertise for SMIC’s advancement to 7-nm process geometry. He also reckons that SMIC could soon displace GlobalFoundries as the third largest fab in the world, behind TSMC and Samsung.