Congressmen asked the Biden administration to keep its chip design software away from China.According to the news by Ars Technica, Senator Tom Cotton and Representative Michael McCaul yesterday requested by the US Department of Commerce to designate electronic design automation (EDA) tools as “core technologies”.

The label may require companies wishing to sell EDA vehicles to Chinese companies to obtain an export license. Congress members also wrote to Trade Secretary Gina Raimondo, demanding that any factory using American software around the world be prevented from selling 14nm or better chips to Chinese companies.

The current state of the art 5 nm node in semiconductors and currently only Samsung and Taiwanese semiconductor company TSMC can commercially produce chips on this node. Limiting Chinese companies to 16 nm or larger capacity could likely keep them out of the cutting edge for four generations.

Semiconductors are incredibly important to China, which imported more than $ 300 billion last year. This is more than the country spends on oil imports.

If the US government were to deprive Chinese companies of EDA tools, it would be a significant blow to this country’s already lagging semiconductor industry. Chinese semiconductor manufacturers are almost entirely dependent on foreign tools and software, and the country’s own EDA software is eight to ten years behind. There are EDA companies that are also located outside of the US, but American firms are particularly dominant in the industry, with companies like Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys, which, according to some estimates, control about 90 percent of the market.

Is China Leaving Behind?
Although companies like SMIC have mainly hired engineers from TSMC and Samsung in recent years, the Chinese semiconductor market has always lagged behind the latest technology. The company produces a decent number of chips at 14 nm, and last year announced the “N + 1” node, which it said was 57 percent more efficient and 20 percent faster. However, throughput in this new process is reported to be low, and if SMIC fails to acquire an Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography (EUV) machine from photolithography company ASML, it will likely run into an impasse.

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EUV required to produce semiconductors of 5 nm or less. The technology uses 13.5 nm UV light to engrave features onto a wafer. Current deep ultraviolet devices (DUV) use 193 nm light. Despite industry’s clever ways to make the DUV run on smaller nodes, yields below 7 nm using the DUV are too low to be commercially viable.

Still, it is unlikely that SMIC will use ASML’s most advanced machine. SMIC ordered an EUV machine in 2018, but this order was delayed by government officials in the Netherlands where ASML is located. The US government began pressing Dutch authorities to stop the sale immediately after the order was placed, and a year and a half ago, the US, Netherlands and Japan (here Canon is another potential supplier of advanced lithography tools) made a temporary agreement not to sell advanced chip production equipment to China. made.

Cotton and McCaul’s demand to prevent China from acquiring advanced EDA software is likely to further hamper China’s passion. As semiconductor manufacturing becomes increasingly complex, the tools required to produce chips are moving at a high speed. Preventing China from obtaining an EUV will likely set the country back a decade or more. The Chinese government is spending more than $ 1 trillion to maximize the semiconductor industry, but still faces the wind. For example, it took more than ten years for ASML’s EUV vehicles to be ready to be installed on customers’ production lines. Restricting Chinese companies’ access to EDA tools will only add to their already huge challenges.

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