Rumor: SMIC has achieved 95% efficiency in 14-nanometer lithography

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Sources in China say SMIC has managed to increase the efficiency of 14-nanometer lithography to 95 percent. Chip industry experts have disputed this claim by giving logical reasons.

Wccftech claims in a report, citing Chinese sources in the semiconductor industry, that China’s largest chipmaker,  SMIC, has achieved a 95% efficiency in 14-nanometer lithography, which is a significant development. If this is true, SMIC will be on a comparable level with Taiwan Semiconductor Industries ( TSMC)  .

While such reports are published in the hardware media, chip industry experts have questioned SMIC’s claim; Especially considering the fact that 14nm lithography is used in less than 10% of SMIC products.

Rumors of a 95% return rate, if true, mean that SMIC has succeeded in bringing 14-nanometer lithography to a state of perfection and is preparing for the development of more advanced lithographs.

The next step for SMIC in lithography is the 10-nanometer version; But according to rumors, the Chinese company intends to reject 10-nanometer lithography and go straight to seven-nanometer lithography. Certainly, with the severe sanctions imposed by the United States against Huawei, the incentive for SMIC and other Chinese chipmakers to make rapid advances in chip lithography has multiplied. US sanctions prevent Huawei from building its chips based on modern lithographs using EUV technology.

In the next step, SMIC will probably develop seven-nanometer lithography

In the last quarter of last year, chips produced with 14-nanometer and 28-nanometer lithography accounted for only five percent of SMIC’s quarterly total revenue; In the third quarter of 2020, two lithographs accounted for 15% of total revenue. According to statistics, SMIC has supplied almost the same number of wafers (1.4 million units) and earned $ 980 million. In comparison, we find that SMIC revenue in the last quarter of 2020 decreased seasonally.

Given the rate of return and the percentage of revenue, engineers at Taiwanese chip companies question the veracity of this claim. They believe that given the decline in 14-nanometer lithography revenue in the final quarter of 2020, it is unlikely that a lithography’s rate of return will increase independently of its output. Lithographic efficiency refers to the number of chips inside each wafer that meet the requirements of the quality control stage and are eligible to enter the next stage of production.

If the rumors become true, SMIC should significantly increase the number of chips based on 14-nanometer lithography in the first quarter of this year. Due to the severe shortage of chips, Huawei and Qualcomm orders have increased. Qualcomm has reportedly applied for tools that SMIC needs to produce chips based on older lithographs. These lithographs have suffered the most from the current state of the chip market, and government scrutiny of U.S. companies such as Lam Research and Applied Materials has increased sharply.

A Chinese subsidiary of Qualcomm, Huawei and SMIC has recently entered into a new business partnership to set up a company called SMIC (Shanghai) Advanced Technology Research and Development Industries, of which SMIC is the largest shareholder. The company will be used to research 14-nanometer lithography. The establishment of this institution is considered as the beginning of a closer business relationship between American and Chinese companies.

Even if SMIC has reached the stage of 14-nanometer lithography being perfect, it still faces many challenges along the way. If older DUVs are used, 10nm lithography production requires more sophisticated production techniques. Due to US sanctions, the SMIC is unable to access modern EUV devices manufactured by the Dutch company ASML. Without access to EUV, SMIC advances in lithography become very difficult. Meanwhile, TSMC, as a competitor to the SMIC magnitude, is achieving mass production of three-nanometer lithography.