China aims to break chokehold of US chipmaking sanctions — Naura Technology to develop lithography tools for the first time

SMEE
(Image credit: SMEE)

China has a grand plan to become completely self-sufficient for chip production. This will require the domestic companies to build their own wafer fab tools. While there are rather successful tool manufacturers in China for etching and deposition — Advanced Micro-Fabrication Equipment Inc. China (AMEC) and Naura Technology — there is only one notable manufacturer of lithography tools, Shanghai Micro Electronics Equipment Group (SMEE). That's arguably not enough, and it looks like Naura is now going to enter this market as well, according to the South China Morning Post.

Naura Technology is already a successful manufacturer of etching and chemical vapor deposition tools. Now it has started its initial research into developing lithography systems, the report says. The dedicated program was initiated back in December 2023, and as of March the company has assembled a small group of engineers to to explore lithography systems. This is an area that extends beyond its conventional focus on etching and film deposition, SCMP reports, citing sources familiar with the matter.

These R&D efforts are being carried out with utmost secrecy to prevent additional sanctions from the U.S., which perceives them as attempts to bypass existing export controls. A representative from Naura told SCMP on Monday that the reported information was not accurate, but did not provide further details.

Although there is no guarantee that Naura's lithography research initiatives will become successful, they reflect the determination of China's chip industry to overcome sanctions imposed by the U.S. The sanctions aim to restrict China's progress in chip manufacturing, AI, and HPC, citing national security concerns.

According to Bloomberg, the U.S. government is considering adding several Chinese semiconductor companies associated with Huawei Technologies to its Entity List, after Huawei and SMIC managed to build a smartphone processor on SMIC's second generation 7nm-class process technology. Among the potential targets is SiCarrier, a government-supported chip tool manufacturer collaborating with Huawei, which received a patent related to quadruple patterning.

G. Dan Hutcheson, vice-chairman of U.S.-based IC research company TechInsights, said China’s SAQP research is likely to involve companies like Naura and SMEE. SMEE is China's most successful manufacturer of lithography tools, and it has developed a 28nm-capable scanner. Hutcheson says that SiCarrier's technology substitutes steps in optical lithography with etching and deposition steps, which reduces reliance on advanced lithography tools produced by ASML. This gives Chinese companies an opportunity to produce chips on advanced nodes without using the latest machines from American, European, or Japanese companies.

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.

  • bluvg
    It's not hard to imagine that China will have superior solutions in the not-too-distant future. China would never prevent the US and other countries from buying, now would they?
    Reply
  • gg83
    All a ploy to get foreign cash back into the country.
    Reply
  • The Historical Fidelity
    Wow, the economics of SMIC 7 & 5nm keep getting worse as more articles come out about it. So not only are they quad patterning (which requires 4x the time, 4x the power, and 4x the masks), but by using etching and deposition to overcome DUV limitations, they are introducing processes that significantly increase defect rates (much harder to control for incomplete, under, and over-etching) as well as consumption of masks due to mask erosion as the etch chemical also acts on the mask material to a lesser extent.
    Reply
  • zsydeepsky
    The Historical Fidelity said:
    Wow, the economics of SMIC 7 & 5nm keep getting worse as more articles come out about it. So not only are they quad patterning (which requires 4x the time, 4x the power, and 4x the masks), but by using etching and deposition to overcome DUV limitations, they are introducing processes that significantly increase defect rates (much harder to control for incomplete, under, and over-etching) as well as consumption of masks due to mask erosion as the etch chemical also acts on the mask material to a lesser extent.
    the economics is that Huawei is using that 7 & 5 nm node earning billions with their phones and Ascend AI cards.
    you know, normally they won't be able to earn so much profit with outdated tech like this.
    but alas, the US government has very successfully eliminated all competitors for them, they literally handed over the entire Chinese market on a silver plate.

    In my honest opinion, even the Chinese government can't support China's native semiconductor industry better than this.
    Reply
  • The Historical Fidelity
    zsydeepsky said:
    the economics is that Huawei is using that 7 & 5 nm node earning billions with their phones and Ascend AI cards.
    you know, normally they won't be able to earn so much profit with outdated tech like this.
    but alas, the US government has very successfully eliminated all competitors for them, they literally handed over the entire Chinese market on a silver plate.

    In my honest opinion, even the Chinese government can't support China's native semiconductor industry better than this.
    Uhh, no, Apple just opened their 57th store in China and consumers came out in droves to buy new Apple products. Even when a grandma yelling “Apple is foreigner, don’t buy, go to huawei store” she got booed out of there lol.
    Reply
  • zsydeepsky
    The Historical Fidelity said:
    Uhh, no, Apple just opened their 57th store in China and consumers came out in droves to buy new Apple products. Even when a grandma yelling “Apple is foreigner, don’t buy, go to huawei store” she got booed out of there lol.

    Ah, fine. here's one news from March:
    Apple's iPhone sales in China plunge 24% as Huawei's popularity surgeshttps://www.reuters.com/technology/apples-china-iphone-sales-plunge-24-first-six-weeks-2024-report-says-2024-03-05
    Reply
  • The Historical Fidelity
    zsydeepsky said:
    Ah, fine. here's one news from March:
    Apple's iPhone sales in China plunge 24% as Huawei's popularity surgeshttps://www.reuters.com/technology/apples-china-iphone-sales-plunge-24-first-six-weeks-2024-report-says-2024-03-05
    Yeah, there is a big push in China to support domestic companies regardless of quality. Does it mean Huawei can compete tech for tech with Apple? No, absolutely not.
    Reply
  • zsydeepsky
    The Historical Fidelity said:
    Yeah, there is a big push in China to support domestic companies regardless of quality. Does it mean Huawei can compete tech for tech with Apple? No, absolutely not.
    As long as you have enough way to cope, you can always resort to one of them.
    It's fine, I never intended to persuade you. So we can all just wait and see how it unfolds.

    Yet, I had a quick search and found the toms hardware news back in 2022 about "Huawei might be able to make sub-7nm chips soon" with your comments. You were pretty confident that won't happen.

    https://www.tomshardware.com/news/huawe-euv-scanner
    Reply
  • The Historical Fidelity
    zsydeepsky said:
    As long as you have enough way to cope, you can always resort to one of them.
    It's fine, I never intended to persuade you. So we can all just wait and see how it unfolds.

    Yet, I had a quick search and found the toms hardware news back in 2022 about "Huawei might be able to make sub-7nm chips soon" with your comments. You were pretty confident that won't happen.

    https://www.tomshardware.com/news/huawe-euv-scanner
    I’m still confident that 7nm SMIC is an unsanctioned copy of TSMC (confirmed via scanning electron microscopy) with yields of ~15% which would be labeled a failure in the west.

    DO NOT put words in my mouth! No where in that article’s comments did I say anything remotely equivalent to “you were pretty confident that won’t happen”. Disingenuous acts like this only serve to belittle your credibility.

    https://www.edn.com/the-truth-about-smics-7-nm-chip-fabrication-ordeal/
    SMIC 5nm has not been physically verified so for all we know it’s either an optimized SMIC 7nm with slightly better density and power consumption and no where near the improvements found in full node shrinkage. And if SMIC 7nm yields are ~15%, then 5nm yields will be at most <15% and probably in the 5-8% range. The only reason these nodes are being used is due to massive government subsidies.

    Or the other option is that SMIC is just using stockpiled TSMC 5nm chips from 2020 like their Kirin 9006C.
    https://m.gsmarena.com/huaweis_5nm_kirin_9006c_is_manufactured_by_tsmc_after_all-news-61132.php
    You aren’t going to convince me because I’m not misled by propaganda.
    Reply
  • zsydeepsky
    The Historical Fidelity said:
    I’m still confident, 7nm SMIC is an unsanctioned copy of TSMC (confirmed via scanning electron microscopy) with yields of 15% which would be labeled a failure in the west.
    https://www.edn.com/the-truth-about-smics-7-nm-chip-fabrication-ordeal/SMIC 5nm has not been physically verified so for all we know it’s either an optimized SMIC 7nm with slightly better density and power consumption and no where near the improvements found in full node shrinkage. And if SMIC 7nm yields are 15%, then 5nm yields will be at most <15% and probably in the 5-8% range. The only reason these nodes are being used is due to massive government subsidies. Or the other option is that SMIC is just using stockpiled TSMC 5nm chips from 2020 like their Kirin 9006C.
    https://m.gsmarena.com/huaweis_5nm_kirin_9006c_is_manufactured_by_tsmc_after_all-news-61132.php
    You aren’t going to convince me because I’m not misled by propaganda.

    then SMIC & Huawei must be a god or something. They have successfully sold 10 million cellphones with their new soc in 5 months, mass manufactured with 15% yields.

    Which translates to like "SMIC produced 70 million 7nm chips" in at most one year time period. By this alone I think you have just crowned them "the world's 2nd/3rd biggest chip manufacturer".

    Therefore I have to ask: What was the US tech sanctions' goal again?

    What a miracle.
    Reply