Apple Reportedly Helped China Chipmaker YMTC Hire US Engineers

Xtacking 3.0 promo image
(Image credit: YMTC)

While in general Chinese chipmakers struggle to successfully rival established players, there are a few exceptions. YMTC (Yangtze Memory Technology Co.) is perhaps the most widely known one, a 3D NAND memory manufacturer that successfully competes against offerings from well-known producers. But to become competitive, The New York Times reports that YMTC received support from an unexpected ally, Apple.

Apple assisted YMTC in hiring engineers from established Western companies in order to improve its yields and productivity, according to the NYT report that cites three people familiar with the matter. So far, neither Apple nor YMTC have confirmed or denied the information, though the California-based consumer electronics giant is known for helping its manufacturing partners to build their operations.

YMTC's 3D NAND devices use the company's unique Xtacking architecture. That consists of two separate wafers bonded together to build ultra-dense and ultra-fast flash memory devices that can power the best SSDs.

With Xtacking, one wafer is used to produce NAND memory arrays leveraging the most efficient 3D NAND process technology that YMTC can design. Then a second wafer is used for various peripheral logic made on the company's most efficient logic process technology. Once the memory arrays and logic are connected using metal TSVs (through silicon vias), the resulting NAND can offer the best of both worlds: ultra-dense memory arrays and a very fast interface.

YMTC's rivals produce memory arrays and peripheral logic on the same wafer, which makes it harder for them to push their interface speeds to the limits. That in turn constrains performance of client-grade PCIe 5.0 x4 SSDs.

Making 3D NAND the way YMTC does is somewhat harder than making memory using traditional methods employed by Kioxia and Western Digital, Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron. YMTC's 3D NAND suffered from low yields (according to media reports) and a slow ramp up, so apparently Apple helped the Chinese companies to hire engineers from reputable manufacturers to fix its issues.

For Apple, which uses 3D NAND across the vast majority of its products, it's important to diversify its supply as it helps to get better prices from each manufacturer. Helping YMTC to ramp up production means there will be more 3D NAND devices to choose from, at lower prices. Meanwhile, now that the U.S. administration has imposed severe sanctions against Chinse semiconductor and supercomputer industries, it looks like Apple no longer plans to use YMTC's 3D NAND even for its products bound to be sold in China.

YMTC became widely known by the general public after it was included in the U.S. Department of Commerce's Unverified List in early October. The U.S. DoC's UVL includes entities whose bona fides (end users) could not be identified "satisfactorily for reasons outside the U.S. Government's control." If YMTC cannot prove to the DoC that its memory is not used by the Chinese military or security forces within 60 days after inclusion into the list, the DoC can include the company in its entity list. That would require American companies to obtain a special export license to sell their products to YMTC.

Meanwhile, four leading makers of wafer fab equipment have already ceased working with YMTC due to the latest export rules imposed by the U.S. government in October. We've reached out to Apple and YMTC for comment and will update if we receive any further details.

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • peachpuff
    Only way to cure this is with more sanctions, sorry Tim Apple...
  • cyrusfox
    YMTC Xtacking is not cost competitive and never will be, it's a fundamental problem of bonding 2 wafers together as you you don't get to cherry pick high yielding of both components, only benefit is you can choose to junk known bad wafers to not waste good CMOS or Memory Array. But they will always have double the wafer cost compared to their competitors. They need a better fundamental design or need to move away from wafer to wafer bonding to die to die bonding. Not sure margins are there for die to die but you can get the best yield if you can be selective at a more granular level.
  • PlaneInTheSky
    I am really starting to hate Apple. Their business dealings in China have been incredibly shady. The fact they lock down their platform is so anti-consumer. And the way they try to undermine Spotify while copying their business with Apple Music is disgusting.
  • watzupken
    icmn223 said:
    Wonderful, nothing like helping our mortal enemy that's on the verge of surpassing us military and projected to have more nuclear warheads than NATO and Russia combined. And our own government is 100% responsible by secretly helping them for many decades which still continues to this day. Absolutely boggles the mind. Western leaders have been letting us down for many years now and need to get serious about this existental threat ASAP before it's too late. They're too busy worried about their fictional existential threat they call climate change which conveniently gives them the right to destroy Western Civilization as we know it. Exactly what China is hoping for.
    Objectively, there is nothing wrong with what Apple did. I think every big US manufacturing company have done that at some point in time or still doing so. Otherwise how do you open shop to mass produce in China? In addition, it takes 2 hands to clap. Apple can sync the engineers up with Chinese companies, but they did not go there because they had no choice. Rather they may have gone to work for China companies because of better pay or for a job that they cannot find at home.
  • watzupken
    PlaneInTheSky said:
    I am really starting to hate Apple. Their business dealings in China have been incredibly shady. The fact they lock down their platform is so anti-consumer. And the way they try to undermine Spotify while copying their business with Apple Music is disgusting.
    Any companies operating in China will need to adhere to the rules and regulations, and I think it is more so if you are a foreign company. My guess is that this issue of "shady business dealings" is unlikely to be unique to Apple. Just as I mentioned above, I don't believe that Apple is the only company helping China some ways for their own benefit as well.
  • Charogne
    I thought normally TH stop comments section when it becomes too much politics; but they make an article that is 100% many American business hire the best engineers from china, without anyone saying anything on the planet as long as it profits US, but the opposite is unacceptable? It will be more and more common as China surpass the US economically, the best engineers goes where they get best paid and where they have the most opportunity to advance their researches. No need to make a sensationalist article on that.
    I would even add, maybe if the US was more into "going forward" scientifically instead of putting all its energy trying to "stay at the top" by all means, they wouldnt have to worry about other countries surpassing them.
  • atomicWAR
    Lets keep the politics out of forum. Tech news and tech help... lets keep our focus positive all.
  • Ralston18
    Agree with @atomicWAR.

    This is not a political forum.

    Closing thread accordingly.