Tuesday, September 27, 2022

SMIC finishes its 14nm production, moving to 7nm and 5nm Next

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According to a local official quoted by Chinese state media on Thursday, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Co. has started mass producing chips using its 14nm-class manufacturing method at its Fab SN1 facility close to Shanghai. Perhaps more significantly, the article stated that the company is moving forward with its 7nm and 5nm-class nodes despite its inability to acquire sophisticated chip production equipment.

Since early 2020, SMIC has been discussing its N+1 fabrication technique, which is generally regarded as the company’s 7nm-class node. It has been positioned as a low-cost alternative to TSMC’s N7 node, which is dependent on deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography tools. In comparison to a comparable chip made using SMIC’s 14nm process, N+1 hopes to cut power consumption by 57%, boost performance by 20%, and reduce the logic space by up to 55% to 63% (for some structures). 

These advancements don’t necessarily support the “7nm class” moniker analysts and the media have given the node, but they are sufficient to disqualify N+1 as an iteration of SMIC’s 14nm or 12nm processes.

Recent TechInsights research demonstrates that SMIC’s N+1 technology is similar to TSMC’s N10 technology, with more lenient restrictions and robust Design Technology Co-Optimization (DTCO) characteristics. Additionally, it offers 89 million logic transistors per square millimetre (89MT/mm2), making it a practical 7nm-class substitute (at least for logic, as scaling SRAM is tricky).

Since July 2021, SMIC has been secretly manufacturing the Bitcoin mining chip used by MinerVa Semiconductor. 

SMIC
credit: tomshardware

The business manufactures those tiny 25W mining chips using its DUV machinery. They provide a means of learning more about the process performance, power, and defect density and are straightforward enough to produce acceptable yields for commercial applications (at least as far as logic cells are concerned).

It is clear from SMIC’s N+1 qualification and readiness for at least limited production that the firm can survive without the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) production equipment that it is unable to acquire as a result of U.S. government sanctions. It remains to be seen, though, whether the company will be able to manufacture substantial and intricate system-on-chips utilising its N+1 node.

From the perspective of logic transistor density, SMIC’s N+1 could replace TSMC’s N7. However, the world’s biggest contract chip manufacturer already uses much more sophisticated fabrication techniques that are attractive to designers of extremely complicated CPUs, compute GPUs, and other high-end data centre grade circuits. 

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As a result, SMIC may have trouble attracting high-profile clients for N+1. Remember that since many of the tools used at SMIC’s fabs are imported from the U.S. and Huawei is subject to tight restrictions, HiSilicon, perhaps the largest chip developer in China, will need to seek an export licence from the U.S.

source

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Nivedita Bangari
Nivedita Bangari
I am a software engineer by profession and technology is my love, learning and playing with new technologies is my passion.

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