According to the latest reports, the Chinese foundry minimum wage produced chips based on its manufacturing process through 7nm in secret since July 2021. These chips would have been used in a Bitcoin mining SoC.
The analytics firm that revealed the information, TechInsights, said it reverse-engineered the chip, concluding that the “Initial images suggest it’s a close copy of TSMC’s 7nm process technologya telling discovery after Taiwanese company TSMC sued SMIC twice in the past for copying its technology.
The discovery comes at a time when China continues to develop its own production of semiconductorswith the heavily sanctioned minimum wage leading the way, while the US government is slow to approve large subsidies for US-based chipmakers like Intel, who has already threatened to go to Europe if this subsidy was not paid in the short term.
The TechInsights report claims that TSMC, Intel and Samsung have developed much more sophisticated technology than SMIC’s 7nm and are at least two lithographs ahead. In any event, the importance for the SMIC to launch its 7nm process cannot be overstated, as the US government has heavily sanctioned the SMIC, restrict your access to advanced tools ASML’s EUV chip manufacturing plant. Same threatened to close factories if they sold chips to Russia.
However, the company can use its current tooling to produce 7nm (and possibly smaller) chips, albeit with less desirable cost savings and performance. This is not a cause for concern for China, which is seeking its technological independence vis-à-vis Western countries by developing its own supply of local chips.
SMIC initially announced its 7nm node early 2020and after, with its partner Innosiliconannounced that he had done a chip in the N+1 version of the 7nm node that same year. It is unclear whether the MinerVa chip for Bitcoin mining, which Techinsights purchased on the open market, has any connection to the Innosilicon initiative. At the time, SMIC claimed that it also had an N+2 version of its 7nm node in the works, but we don’t know if the MinerVa chips use the N+1 or N+2 version of the process technology.
The bitcoin mining chip Minerva looks pretty basic and only measurements 4.6×4.2mm, implying that SMIC is still in the early stages of chip development. However, these types of small, simple, rudimentary chips often serve as learning nodes while the process technology is perfected:
“This low-volume product can be the stepping stone to a true 7nm process that incorporates large-scale memory and logic cells. no typical mining memory bitcells which requires the true definition of 7nm technology (both the scaling logic and the adoption of bitcells) This chipset probably demonstrates the logic part, but not the look bitcell,” says TechInsights.
Mining chips are perfect for solving the problems of a new compute node – as you can see in the image above, these little chips are being deployed en masse to create powerful machines. In this case, the minor has 120 tokens per board create a machine that consumes up to 3300W of power. It can be expected that SMIC will eventually build larger and more complex chips based on its 7nm process node as performance improves over time.