The shadow of the United States is very long. The Joe Biden-led Administration is determined to do everything in its power to prevent the Chinese chip industry from developing enough to boost in a noticeable way its weapons capacityand the most effective strategy to achieve this is to prevent US technologies from being used by China.
On October 7, 2022, the US government clenched its fist to the maximum by including the entire Chinese semiconductor industry on the list that reflects the scope of its sanctions. And precisely Loongson, which is one of the few Chinese companies that can develop advanced microprocessors, appears on that blacklist. In fact, at the beginning of this year it began the large-scale distribution of its 3C5000 chip, a general-purpose CPU with LoongArch microarchitecture implemented by this company on the MIPS architecture.
For China, Loongson’s processors are critical because it uses them for military applications, in addition to using them in other scenarios. So much so that its strategic value It has led this Asian country to ban its export to Russia, a partner that would use it in hand to alleviate the pressure to which the West as a whole is being subjected. So far Loongson has been able to evade US sanctions and has continued to improve its microprocessors, but going forward it will be very difficult. So much so, in fact, that the future of his chips is uncertain.
The architecture is not the problem; are the design and lithography
As I mentioned a few lines above, Loongson implements its processors on the MIPS architecture, but the microarchitecture of these chips has been expressly designed by engineers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. By not using x86-64 or ARM architectures, this company has been able to continue refining its designs without being constrained by US sanctions, but it has run into a problem: to design these CPUs it is using US software, and the latest package of bans. of the West also prevents Chinese companies from accessing these tools.
Some of the photolithography equipment that SMIC uses to manufacture its chips incorporates technologies of US origin
However, this is not the only stumbling block Loongson faces. This company is dedicated to the design of microprocessors, but does not have the capacity to manufacture them itself. SMIC takes care of this, which is the largest semiconductor manufacturer in China, in the same way that TSMC produces integrated circuits designed by AMD, Apple, NVIDIA or Qualcomm. The problem is that some of the photolithography equipment that SMIC uses to manufacture its chips incorporates technologies from the United States, or from one of its allies, such as the Netherlands or Japan. And this company is also in the crosshairs of the US. In fact, like Loongson, he appears on his blacklist.
Ultimately, Loongson has the ability to design its own microprocessors because the microarchitecture on which they are implemented belongs to it, but it cannot use the tools it has used up to now to do so, and SMIC cannot manufacture them using its most advanced lithographs.
The only option for these and other Chinese companies that find themselves in a similar predicament is to become completely independent from the West and develop their own technologies to solve all your needs. They probably have the resources they need to do it, but this goal isn’t exactly cheap. And, what is even more disturbing for China, this absolute independence requires a time that right now this gigantic country does not have.
Cover image: ASML
Via: DigiTimes Asia
In Xataka: An industry in the hands of TSMC and Asian factories: the map of world chip production
Leave a Reply