SMIC is preparing to start production of a Huawei 5nm smartphone processor, according to a report in the Financial Times (FT). China’s largest chipmaker has put together additional production lines with manufacturing equipment that was shipped before export restrictions came into force. If the production runs prove successful, a 5nm AI chip also designed by Huawei is said to be next.
Last year, Huawei surprised the world by launching a smartphone powered by a SMIC-made 7nm processor, which is significantly more advanced than the 14nm cut-off point the US is targeting for China. In an apparent response, the Biden administration imposed additional curbs on ASML, sidelining the Dutch government.
SMIC’s ability to produce 5nm chips was foretold by former TSMC executive Burn Lin. The necessity of multi-patterning is taking a toll on yield, however, which according to the FT is less than a third of TSMC’s. It should also be noted that it’s unlikely that SMIC will be able to expand quasi-leading-edge capacity for the foreseeable future now that all suitable DUV immersion scanners are off-limits to the company.