The N+1 process is what is slated to come after the current generation of 14nm/12nm manufacturing processes and will be key to the decoupling of China's electronics industry from the west. Both Huawei and more recently SMIC have been the target of trade restrictions imposed by the US government in recent months and weeks.
Innosilicon said it has invested tens of millions of yuan (more than US$30 million) in design optimization around the N+1 process, although it is not yet commercial.
While some observers have described the N+1 process as SMIC's 7nm process that is not something SMIC has done. It prefers to describe N+1 in terms of its comparison with the existing 14nm manufacturing process.
According to reports, when compared to SMIC's 14nm FinFET process the N+1 improves performance by 20 percent, power consumption is reduced by 57 percent, logic area can be reduced by 63 percent, and total die area can be reduced by 55 percent.
This puts it behind TSMC's 7nm process and perhaps more akin to a 10nm process and is expected to go into production in this quarter.
The N+1 process does not require extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. This is just as well because monopoly supplier of EUV lithography machines is withholding one machine bought by SMIC because it lacks the appropriate license from its own government (see ASML delays Chinese delivery of EUV lithography tool ).
But the viability of SMIC's whole manufacturing operation is in doubt as the US government has added the foundry to the so-called 'entity list' of companies and institutions that require special licenses to receive goods and services. Without service support for manufacturing equipment bought from US and western hemisphere companies SMIC's production to slow to a crawl relatively quickly.
The first chip design targeting the N+1 process has been through multiple tests, Innosilicon said.
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