Can Chinese chiplets dodge export controls?

Updated U.S. export controls include new language restricting certain approaches to implementing emerging chiplet technology – Discover the article written by Junko Yoshida for THE OJO-YOSHIDA REPORT, in collaboration with John Lorenz from Yole Intelligence, part of Yole Group.

What’s at stake:

Chiplets can advance the semiconductor industry by enabling system companies and semiconductor suppliers to mix and match chiplets manufactured by different foundries for heterogeneous integration. That concept, however, is also helping China to develop home-grown AI processors that could rival those manufactured by Western companies, currently banned from export. (…)

What does this mean for China exports?

Chiplets restrictions add a new wrinkle to U.S. export controls, compelling chip companies to consider what they can and cannot do.

John Lorenz, senior technology and market analyst at Yole Intelligence, told the Ojo-Yoshida Report, “We’ve been talking about chiplets as a way to overcome some of the barriers arising on the manufacturing side. [Such challenges] include the physics of shrinking lithography and the problems of large die. But here, we are now talking about chiplets potentially as a way to overcome some of these export controls.”

Take Nvidia’s H100 GPU that had been barred for export since 2022.  “That’s a monolithic die, that’s 80 billion transistors,” said Lorenz. “It’s over 800 square millimeters of silicon that’s manufactured by TSMC. And as for node, it’s roughly 100 million transistors per square millimeter.”

Could China build a chip, equivalent to H100, using chiplets?

It is unclear whether China could pull this off. Given the process nodes available in the country, “this would become a lot larger die,” Lorenz said. If customers used Shanghai-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC) to manufacture a die with 80 billion transistors, it would be “like 3,000 square millimeters large,” said Lorenz, “which would be outrageous.”

In other words, chiplets will not automatically enable China to develop AI processors equivalent to those banned from export by Washington. Still, Lorenz notes, Beijing’s goal of self-sufficiency could alter the dynamics of U.S.-Chinese tech competition…

Read the full article here.