Minimum wage breaks through in chips – Taipei Times

A SMIC customer featured a chip on its website, saying mass production at the US-sanctioned company began in July last year.

Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC, 中芯) has likely advanced its production technology two generations, defying US sanctions meant to halt the rise of China’s biggest chipmaker.

The Shanghai-based manufacturer is shipping bitcoin mining semiconductors built using 7-nanometer technology, industry watcher TechInsights wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

That would be well ahead of SMIC’s established 14-nanometer technology, a measure of manufacturing complexity in which narrower transistor widths help produce faster, more efficient chips.

Photo: Reuters

Since late 2020, the United States has banned the unlicensed sale to the Chinese company of equipment that can be used to make semiconductors of 10 nanometers and beyond, which infuriated Beijing.

A person familiar with the developments confirmed the report, asking not to be named as they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The startling advances in the minimum wage raise questions about the effectiveness of export controls and Washington’s ability to thwart China’s ambition to foster a world-class chip industry at home and reduce its dependence on foreign technologies. It also comes as U.S. lawmakers have urged Washington to close loopholes in its China-oriented restrictions and ensure Beijing does not supply crucial technology to Russia.

The restrictions have effectively derailed Huawei Technologies Co’s (華為) smartphone business by cutting it off from the tools needed to be at the forefront of the competition.

Previously, SMIC said its core capabilities were at 14 nanometers, two generations behind 7 nanometers, about four years behind the most advanced technology available from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (台積電) and Samsung Electronics Co.

SMIC has been working with customers on technologies more advanced than 14 nanometers as early as 2020, it said in an earnings call that year.

China’s MinerVa Semiconductor Corp, which is named as a SMIC customer in the TechInsights report, showcases a 7-nanometer chip on its website and says mass production began in July last year, without specifying the maker.

SemiAnalysis senior analyst Dylan Patel was the first to rate the report.

Representatives for SMIC and MinerVa did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Tags attached to generations of chip production technology have become increasingly controversial because they no longer represent the dimensions of the microscopic transistors that give chips their electronic function. The companies have accused each other of mislabeling their products to make them appear more advanced than they actually are.

While the ability to produce a small number of chips using the next level of production technique indicates that a company is making technological progress, what determines economic viability – under normal circumstances – is yield, or the percentage of each successful production cycle.

Intel Corp, once a production technology leader, stalled one type of production for five years because it couldn’t get enough viable chips to make a profit from bringing that node into mainstream production.

However, the SMIC does not work under normal commercial conditions.

It is critical to China’s ability to produce chips domestically as the United States attempts to undermine the country’s technological advancements. Beijing may be willing to subsidize the losses of its domestic competitors, including the minimum wage, for fear that its companies lack access to key components.

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