Yangtze Memory Technologies Co (YMTC), China’s leading memory chip producer, has manufactured the “world’s most advanced” 3D NAND memory chip known to be in a consumer device in a “surprise technology leap”, according to a report by TechInights.
YMTC’s memory chip, found in a solid-state drive launched quietly in July, shows that the manufacturer has continued to develop advanced technology despite being hampered by sanctions after it was placed on the US Commerce Department’s Entity List, according to a Wednesday report by the semiconductor analysis firm.
The development follows an earlier teardown analysis by TechInsights of the Kirin 9000S 5G processor found in US-blacklisted Huawei Technologies’ Mate 60 Pro smartphone released in August, which was said to be made by Chinese foundry Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC). The powerful home-grown chip surprised many industry analysts given the tough US restrictions in place.
“Like the innovation revealed by TechInsights in the Huawei Mate 60 Pro’s HiSilicon Kirin 9000s processor (which used the SMIC 7-nm (N+2) process), evidence is mounting that China’s momentum to overcome trade restrictions and build its own domestic semiconductor supply chain is more successful than expected,” said TechInsights in its report.
3D NAND memory is at the forefront of memory chip design and is an important component for high-performance computing in applications such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
YMTC and 21 other “major” Chinese players in the chip sector were added to the US Entity List in mid-December 2022 amid escalating trade and geopolitical tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
At the time, the Wuhan-based chip manufacturer had been on track to challenge memory chip leaders Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix and Micron Technology with a new flagship 3D NAND flash chip, the 232-layer X3-9070. Prospects for mass production of this chip faltered after US equipment suppliers KLA and Lam Research stopped sales and services to YMTC.
However, a recent downturn in the memory chip market and a renewed focus on cost-saving measures in the industry, may have provided YMTC with an opportunity to pull ahead with a more advanced, higher-bit density chip, according to TechInsights.
Sources said that the project intended to use Chinese equipment only and that YMTC had placed big orders with domestic equipment suppliers, including Beijing-based Naura Technology Group, a leading Chinese maker of etching tools, which are also the primary product line of US-based Lam Research.
However, at the time, analysts flagged many outstanding choke points in China’s chip manufacturing supply chain, such as the lack of viable domestic Chinese alternatives for chip-making tools, such as lithography systems available from Dutch company ASML Holding. The Dutch firm has a near monopoly position in the production of the world’s most advanced extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines.
TechInsights did not comment in its report on whether YMTC’s memory chips are thought to have been produced with exclusively Chinese-manufactured tools and components.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg released a report citing unnamed sources that said SMIC had used retooled equipment from ASML, specifically its deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography systems, to manufacture the advanced processor in the landmark Huawei smartphone.
The DUV process – when producing at scale – is estimated to be more expensive than using more advanced EUV lithography systems, which ASML has been prohibited from selling to China since 2019.
However, stricter curbs on ASML’s sales to China are coming. From January 2024, the company will be prohibited from selling its 2000-series DUV machines to China under The Hague’s latest restrictions.
The news is published by EMEA Tribune & SCMPFollow our WhatsApp verified Channel