Chinese silicon foundry provider Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC) on Thursday (Oct. 28) disclosed that it has signed a deal to develop 90-nm process technologies with Texas Instruments Inc.
During a conference call, Richard Chang, president and CEO of SMIC (Shanghai), said that the foundry provider and TI have signed a deal to devise logic chips for 90-nm applications.
SMIC has ordered the tools to produce 90-nm designs, with shipments due in the fourth quarter of this year, Chang said. SMIC plans to move into pilot production for 90-nm processes by the first quarter of 2005, he added.
The company uses lithography scanners from two sources: ASML Holding NV and Canon.
For weeks, SMIC said it is developing 90-nm technology; many observers speculated that TI is the company's partner.
Looking to move its next-generation designs into mass production, TI itself is in the process of ramping up its 90-nm technology on several fab fronts.
TI is also working with SMIC on 130-nm process technology, it was noted. Most of that work involves the backend metallization portion of the chip. In other words, TI does the front-end work and ships the wafer to SMIC for metallization.
The deal would signal the further erosion of a post Cold War-era pact -- known as the Wassenaar Arrangement -- set up to limit the dissemination of technology that could have potential military use.
Tools capable of processing 0.25-micron wafers had been the perceived limit under U.S. controls, but a number of chip-making startups, joint ventures, and major semiconductor manufacturers in China have announced plans for 0.18-micron and below processes.
To confuse matters, the U.S. Department of Commerce has all along contended there are no restrictions in selling U.S. fab tools into China with linewidth geometries below 0.25-micron. Last year, however, officials from the U.S. Department of Defense confused the issue, by announcing the U.S. government would began granting licenses for tools that are capable of processing 130-nm designs, starting in 2004.
Vendors must obtain a license for such exports and are granted the proper papers on a case-by-case basis, which is where the problems surface.
The U.S. government appears to be stalling over a move to relax the licensing procedures for U.S. chip-equipment makers in China. Earlier this year, however, the U.S. government did announced its support for a proposal to relax export controls for U.S.-made automatic test equipment (ATE) into China starting in 2005.