China reportedly has produced a close replica of a high-end chip made by Taiwanese foundry giant TSMC.

In a report on July 22, industry watchdog TechInsights suspected that China’s SMIC may have produced a MinerVa Bitcoin Miner system on chip (SoC) using a process node of 7-nanometer technology, mimicking that mastered by world leader TSMC from Taiwan.

The chip is yet a bona fide replication. The simple outlook plus measures of only 4.6 x 4.2 mm indicates that it is in the early stages of chip development. But TechInsights noted that this has been the most advanced product the company has observed from SMIC.

The analysis said SMIC’s version might lead to a true 7-nanometer process incorporating scaled logic and memory bitcells. At present, TSMC, Intel, and Samsung have at least two generations’ worth of technology ahead of SMIC’s 7nm.

The research commented, “Since bitcoin miners have limited RAM requirements, they likely do not feature the typical bitcell memory that the true 7nm technology definition requires (both scaled logic and bitcell adoption). This chipset likely demonstrates the logic part but not the bitcell aspect.”

SMIC in 2020 claimed that it had successfully developed the N+1 version of the 7-nanometer node. That year, it said it was still in the process of unraveling the design of N+2. TechInsights is uncertain if the process technology used in the MinerVa chips falls into which category.

SMIC has been shipping the technology since July 2021. 

The 7-nanometer crypto-mining device could remain in the consumer or commercial fields. But the process node can be exploited by the Chinese military, given that Beijing requires private enterprises by law to share their intelligence with the government.

The report echoes the two legal actions filed by TSMC against SMIC in 2002 and 2006 for plagiarizing its process technology. TechInsights supposed this 7-nanometer process node could result in a third lawsuit.

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