Semiconductor Manufacturing Worldwide Corp. (SMIC) reaching the 7-nm chip fabrication course of has been a jaw dropper. Nonetheless, whereas it’s making headlines within the know-how and commerce media, it’s crucial to look at the true worth of SMIC’s so-called nice leap ahead. Can SMIC mass produce chips at its newly developed 7-nm node? The weblog makes an attempt to reply this vital however difficult query.

Nevertheless, earlier than that, let’s recap SMIC’s ascent to the 7-nm course of node, which itself has been acknowledged as a watershed second in chip manufacturing when it was launched in 2018. In comparison with the predecessor 14-nm node, the 7-nm chips considerably boosted efficiency whereas additionally being way more economical by packing much more transistors per unit space on a chip.

And a 7-nm node may be constructed with out excessive ultraviolet lithography (EUV) gear, and the broadly accessible deep ultraviolet (DUV) know-how can be utilized to manufacture a 7-nm chip. The truth is, TSMC used DUV machines within the early levels of its 7-nm chip manufacturing. Based on some trade studies, whereas catching up on this course of node, SMIC copied some fabrication know-how chunks from TSMC’s course of geometry dubbed N7.

Subsequent, as TechInsights work about SMIC’s 7-nm chip reveals, the usage of DUV know-how provides a number of complexity to the chip design. For a begin, utilizing DUV gear entails extra layers of masks, main to a few and even 4 rounds of patterning for a 7-nm chip. However, EUV machines can put chip patterns on a wafer floor by exposing it to gentle solely as soon as, making EUV know-how a mainstay for 7-nm and smaller nodes.

On this explicit backdrop, Douglas Fuller, an professional on China’s semiconductor trade, instructed Monetary Occasions that the furor over SMIC’s 7-nm progress is overblown and that China’s prime fab is utilizing additional publicity to make up for the dearth of EUV instruments. He additionally resonated doubts concerning the yield of SMIC’s 7-nm chip fabricating course of.

Based on some trade observers, SMIC’s 7-nm yields per wafer are within the vary of 15%. That, in flip, makes the chips manufactured at this course of node very pricey, round 10 instances the market value of a chip manufactured at TSMC’s 7-nm node. It’s additionally price noting that the crypto-miner chip recognized to have been manufactured at SMIC’s 7-nm node contains a extremely parallel design, which suggests decrease complexity.

Within the last evaluation, SMIC’s 7-nm story relates extra to China’s political explanation for semiconductor self-sufficiency than market economics. On the identical time, nonetheless, it’s a quasi-7-nm chip manufacturing course of that would change into a stepping stone for a real 7-nm course of node. Right here, the lacking hyperlink is ASML’s EUV know-how, at the moment banned for semiconductor fabs in China.

It’s vital to notice that after imposing an export ban on the EUV know-how, there have been studies about the USA approaching Netherlands’ ASML and Japan’s Nikon to cease the supply of DUV gear to China as nicely. However that’s not more likely to matter as fabs in China will need to have already purchased a ample variety of DUV machines by now. The DUV-based lithography know-how has been round because the 1980s.

SMIC has clearly been swimming in opposition to the tide in its quest for smaller chip fabrication nodes. Although it’s come a great distance since having 28-nm course of know-how in 2021, its future roadmaps are fraught with gigantic know-how hurdles. Looking back, the transport of a 7-nm chip marks solely the primary vital step amid considerations about yield fee, manufacturing value, and extra importantly, EUV know-how embargo.

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