U.S. Lashes China With Stricter Export Bans on Chip-Making Tech

Chip wafers
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The U.S. government is ready to turn the screws on China when it comes to its aspirations in the chipmaking industry. According to comments made by Tim Archer, CEO of Lam Research Corp, the U.S. is extending its ban on chipmaking equipment produced by domestic firms that are sold to Chinese companies. 

If you recall, the U.S. government already banned the sale of tools that produce chips at 10nm or smaller. However, that ban has extended to tools necessary for manufacturing chips smaller than 14nm. This latest restriction could further erode China’s efforts to become a chipmaking powerhouse to rival competition from TSMC and Samsung, and to a lesser extent, Intel. 

“That’s the change, I think, people have been thinking might be coming and we’re prepared to fully comply,” Archer explained in comments to Bloomberg. “We’re working with the U.S. government.” Archer added that the new export licensing requirements appear to only apply to logic chips and have no bearing on memory chips.

The bulk of new processors manufactured now from the likes of Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and others use 10nm or lower nodes, leaving China generations behind the best from the United States. But why does the U.S. need to handicap China further with mature nodes smaller than 14nm?

“The Biden Administration is focused on impairing PRC efforts to manufacture advanced semiconductors to address significant national security risks to the United States,” said an official representing the U.S. Commerce Department. 

These new restrictions could significantly affect companies with a chip manufacturing presence in China, including TSMC and SMIC. U.S. companies that provide chipmaking equipment to China that are potentially affected include KLA Corporation and the aforementioned Lam Research. However, KLA CEO Rick Wallace said his company doesn’t expect any significant impact from the new guidance.

Interestingly, the U.S. government’s increased limitations on China come at a time when the U.S. Senate and House passed the CHIPS Act with $52 billion earmarked for bolstering domestic chip companies. The CHIPS Act is designed “to strengthen semiconductor advanced test, assembly, and packaging capability in the domestic ecosystem.” 

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, unsurprisingly, has been a huge proponent of the bill, going so far as to say that his company would pull out of its planned Ohio “mega fab” in favor of Europe if the CHIPS Act did not pass.

Brandon Hill

Brandon Hill is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware. He has written about PC and Mac tech since the late 1990s with bylines at AnandTech, DailyTech, and Hot Hardware. When he is not consuming copious amounts of tech news, he can be found enjoying the NC mountains or the beach with his wife and two sons.