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SMIC to sell Huawei costly, inefficient 5nm chips

Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC), China’s largest chip maker, reportedly will mass produce 5-nanometer chips for Huawei Technologies later this year despite low yields and high production cost.

Commentators said Huawei and SMIC are determined to push forward with this costly project as Beijing wants to show the world that Chinese companies can achieve technological breakthroughs despite the US chip export ban. They said it is more likely a political project than a commercially feasible one.

Chip engineers said it’s technically possible to use immersion deep-ultraviolet (DUV) lithography to produce 5nm chips but the cost can be several times higher than those made with extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. They said SMIC may be able to make 7nm and 5nm chips with yields of 50% and 30-40%, respectively.

The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that SMIC will use its existing stock of the US-and Dutch-made equipment to mass-produce 5nm Kirin systems-on-chips (SoCs). It said SMIC is pricing its 5nm and 7nm products at a 40-50% premium over what TSMC charges for similar technology nodes.

Citing some experts, the FT said the yield of SMIC’s 7nm chips is less than one-third that of TSMC’s similar products.

Huawei and SMIC can use still-existing DUV equipment that’s on hand to produce 5nm but the cost will be very high, Burn Lin, a former vice president of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and current dean of the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan’s Hsinchu, told Bloomberg in an interview last October.

The production of 5nm chips with a DUV lithography requires four-time patterning technique, which includes multiple exposures and etching processes, he said. The multiple patterning is