the impressive rise of the first Chinese cross-country skier

With its chips engraved in 7nm, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) is now playing in the big leagues.

SMIC, China’s top computer chip maker, has long been derided in the industry for its inability to compete with industry giants. But whoever laughs last will laugh well; Canadian analysts from the TechInsight firm have confirmed that the founder has discreetly passed an extremely important technological milestone which propels it to the heights of this industry.

According to specialists who have had access to chips extracted from cryptocurrency mining machines, the country of Xi Jinping would now be able to produce their own chips engraved in 7 nm.

Progress as discreet as it is rapid

On a computer chip, this figure expressed in nanometers (billionths of a meter) represents the space between the transistors, these tiny logical sub-units which are the basis of the operation of these machines. The smaller this number, the closer the transistors are to each other, and the more it is possible to install on the same chip, and therefore increase the computing power.

It’s far from being the only element that determines the capabilities of a CPU, but it remains a very important characteristic; all cross-country skiers engage in a frantic race on this terrain. TSMC, the all-powerful Taiwanese firm which is making rain and shine in this sector, will for example launch mass production of its brand new series of 3 nm chips.

© Jeremy Bezanger – Unsplash

In absolute terms, SMIC is therefore still far from competing with the world leaders. But the significance of this move to 7 nm should not be underestimated; remember that this figure is not everything, but for comparison, the 12th generation of Intel CPUs is based on a 10 nm manufacturing process. AMD’s Ryzen 5000s are produced by TSMC using a 7nm process.

On this parameter in particular, SMIC is therefore on the heels of TMSC, Intel, Samsung and others. This shows that the Chinese founder has reached a level of technological maturity that allows it to produce chips relatively close to current standards, which still seemed quite fanciful just a few years ago.

The Canadian researchers explain in particular that SMIC only needed two years to go from 14 nm to 7 nm, which represents a dazzling progress. To put it into perspective, remember that TSMC and Samsung respectively needed three and five years to take the plunge, while they are world leaders in this field.

China advances despite

And above all, the firm has succeeded in doing so “ without access to the most advanced western technology and equipment “. According to the South China Morning Post, this progress, SMIC owes it in large part to co-CEO Liang Mong Song, a size in the semiconductor industry who cut his teeth at… TSMC before joining the Middle Kingdom . And according to Canadian analysts, there just so happens to be ” many similarities between TSMC and SMIC 7nm process technologies, designs and innovations “.

Coincidence? Probably not. In any case, this partly explains how SMIC has progressed so quickly, and despite the battering of the American administration. Remember that Uncle Sam takes a very dim view of this rise in technological power, because it is an eminently strategic sector; today, having first-rate founders is the guarantee of having considerable influence and autonomy on the international scene.

This balance of power has motivated the United States to place China on a blacklist which denies it access to most of the equipment necessary for the manufacture of modern chips. It is also largely for this reason that the US government launched its famous CHIPS and Science Act, a gigantic $280 billion program aimed at countering the growing technological and scientific influence of its best enemy (see our article). It will therefore be very interesting to see if the efforts of the Americans will have the expected effects, and what impact this gradual rise in power will have on this industry on a global scale.

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