SMIC, China’s largest processor maker, now has a 7nm node up and running

China’s disadvantage in processor manufacturing could be minimized in the very near future. SMIC, China’s largest chip maker now has the capability to produce chips on 7nm architecture, very similar to what TSMC produces on this node. 7nm is still a modern architecture, but it is several generations behind TSMC and Samsung, which are due to launch 3nm processors this year.

China could catch up with competition from Taiwan and Korea in processor production

One of the main reasons China can’t compete (yet) in the processor market is that no Chinese-owned company has access to the technologies needed for modern chip production. ASML, a Dutch company, is the only one in the world that produces the necessary tools for UV lithography at very small sizes (below 10nm), and Chinese companies cannot buy them.

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However, a new dedicated processor for cryptocurrency mining has been released by SMIC, and on closer inspection, it is made on 7nm lithography, something no other Chinese company has produced domestically before. Apparently the overall architecture is based on technology from TSMC, and the Taiwanese company has accused SMIC of technology theft in the past, which now comes as no surprise. However, China’s 7nm processors don’t appear to use UV equipment, but a proprietary manufacturing process.

At the moment, these processors aren’t complex enough to be used in smartphones or PCs, as they don’t integrate many necessary components, such as a memory controller, but in time SMIC could overcome these limitations as well. Huawei, which is rumored to be working on a new processor for smartphones, could benefit from SMIC technology, as it can’t access modern manufacturing nodes from TSMC or Samsung factories.

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