New Huawei Kirin 9000S Mystery 7nm Chip from Chinese Fab Defies US Sanctions

Huawei Kirin 9000S SMIC chip technology
Huawei Kirin 9000S (Image credit: HiSilicon)

In the fast-paced world of tech, where innovation knows no bounds, Huawei has once again stirred the pot with its latest revelation – the Kirin 9000S system-on-chip (SoC). What makes this discovery truly remarkable is the mystery behind its construction, which includes a delicate dance between Huawei, China’s SMIC (Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation), and the impending shadow of US sanctions.

Unveiling the Enigma: Huawei Kirin 9000S

Powering Huawei’s latest flagship, the Mate 60 Pro, the Kirin 9000S is a chip shrouded in secrecy. TechInsights, a well-known semiconductor research group, teases something revolutionary. According to their report, this SoC is crafted by SMIC, utilizing its second-generation 7nm-class fabrication process and an undisclosed stacking technique. To add to the enigma, the chip supposedly incorporates CPU and GPU microarchitectures developed entirely in-house. It’s important to remember, though, that all of this information is still unofficial, keeping us all on our toes.

The Intricacies of Huawei Kirin 9000S

Peeling back the layers of the Huawei Kirin 9000S reveals a complex SoC with a unique blend of power and efficiency. It boasts four high-performance cores, one capable of reaching 2.62 GHz and two clocking in at up to 2150 MHz. There are also four energy-efficient cores capable of reaching speeds of up to 1530 MHz. These cores are based on Huawei’s TaiShan microarchitecture, still rooted in the Armv8a ISA. The graphics processing unit, named Maleoon 910, operates at a maximum of 750 MHz.

Notably, the CPU and GPU run at comparatively lower clock speeds when compared to the frequencies of Arm’s cores found in earlier HiSilicon SoCs. This variance may be traced to SMIC’s unique 2nd generation 7nm manufacturing method, which has the potential to alter the game for SMIC, Huawei, and the Chinese tech sector as a whole. Although there is some confusion surrounding the nomenclature, with TechInsights referring to it as SMIC’s 2nd generation production node and the Global Times dubbing it as 5nm-class technology, it’s likely that these terms are used interchangeably, as both seemingly allude to what was once known as SMIC’s N+2 process.

The Mysterious N+2 Process

SMIC initially introduced its N+2 manufacturing technology in 2020, seemingly as an evolutionary step from its N+1, which was once touted as a cost-effective alternative to TSMC’s N7, a 7nm-class fabrication process. Some Chinese analysts, however, have been quick to label N+2 as SMIC’s 5nm-class production node. While SMIC has never officially confirmed its chip production on 7nm or 5nm nodes, independent evidence suggests that they have produced MinerVa Semiconductor Bitcoin mining ASICs using their 7nm-class N+1 technology.

It’s worth noting that SMIC’s Twinscan NXT:2000i deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography scanners can handle both 7nm and 5nm technologies. To achieve these qualities on such a big scale, however, they rely heavily on multi-patterning, an expensive approach that can have an influence on yields and manufacturing costs. Consequently, the economic efficiency of SMIC’s 5nm-class technology may fall behind industry giants like Intel, TSMC, and Samsung Foundry.

The Art of Stacking

One captivating aspect of the Huawei Kirin 9000S is its reported use of stacking technology. Despite the lack of specifics, we may guess on many possibilities. Perhaps it stacks the modem IC atop the CPU+GPU IC to save motherboard space, or it may disaggregate logic to streamline production. Whatever the specifics are, superior packaging technology marks a substantial advancement for both SMIC and Huawei’s HiSilicon.

A New Chapter for HiSilicon and SMIC

Huawei’s HiSilicon has long been known for adopting TSMC’s cutting-edge fabrication technologies. However, following the US technology ban in 2020, HiSilicon was left in a challenging position. Unable to collaborate with TSMC, it is believed that Huawei stepped in to assist SMIC in advancing its fabrication processes. If this is indeed the case, then the Kirin 9000S is the first tangible outcome of this collaboration.

As fascinating as this all sounds, Huawei has stayed silent on the matter. Even the state-run Global Times refrains from explicitly confirming the use of SMIC’s 5nm-class process technology, preferring to label it as a rumor. The rest of the world can only watch and wait as the mystery unfolds and the IT sector advances into unknown territory.

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