Amid no letup in US-China tech tensions, many industry professionals are pinning their hopes on the concept of a chiplet as a replacement for standard chips to help the country achieve greater self-sufficiency in semiconductor manufacturing. The chiplet is essentially a technology that allows an integrated circuit (IC) block to be interconnected with other ICs to form a larger, more complex chip. The chiplet has gained popularity in China as the country’s semiconductor manufacturing is years, if not decades, behind international fabs such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) and Samsung Electronics when it comes to making advanced chips. With US trade sanctions on the export of advanced chip technologies to China unlikely to lift any time soon, a number of Chinese researchers have argued that the chiplet could be an option for the country to forge its own path in advanced chipmaking. TSMC says demand for capacity still strong ahead of 3nm chip launch Huawei Technologies Co, the Chinese telecoms giant under strict US sanctions, is looking at innovation in chip packaging – a technology related to the chiplet – in a bid to solve its own chip sourcing problem. Elsewhere, US tech giant Apple unveiled its most powerful in house-designed silicon M1 Ultra chip in March, which adopted a chiplet architecture that interconnects two M1 Max chips to create a more powerful processor for its line-up of Mac studio computers. Hao Qinfen, secretary general of the China Computer Interconnection Technology Alliance (CCITA), said in an interview posted on its website that China can use chips produced on the mature 28-nanometre node and pack the chiplets into a more powerful chip with performance and functionality on par with advanced 16-nm or even 7-nm products. China’s leading fab, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC), is able to make chips on 28-nm and 14-nm nodes but China’s chip design firms, such as Huawei’s HiSilicon and Oppo’s design unit, rely on TSMC for 7-nm and more advanced chips, such as those used in the latest smartphones. China’s top chip maker SMIC warns of reduced electronics demand in Q2 However, some experts still have their doubts about the viability of the technology to solve long-term deficiencies. G. Dan Hutcheson, vice chair at TechInsights, a semiconductor research firm, said the chiplet as a semiconductor packaging technology cannot, on its own, solve China’s predicament when it comes to advanced chip manufacturing. Hutcheson, who described the chiplet as a new “marketing” term, said the idea is being played up in Chinese industry circles because the country is relatively good at packaging technologies. However, “this does nothing to change the situation for manufacturing wafers in fabs because it is a packaging technology”. Wei Shaojun, a professor at Tsinghua University and a leading expert on microelectronics, was quoted by Chinese media outlet Caixin as saying that the chiplet is “complementary” to advanced chipmaking technology, and not a replacement for it. Currently, foreign companies are looking to set new universal standards in chiplet technology, which would eventually allow members to use the same interface to facilitate the process from design to manufacturing. SMIC’s new chairman must steer the firm through tough US sanctions The Universal Chiplet Interconnect Express (UCIe), an international consortium tasked with developing industry specifications related to chiplet technologies, was created in March 2022 with 10 founding members, including AMD, Arm, Advanced Semiconductor Engineering, Google Cloud, Intel, Meta, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung and TSMC. No Chinese company has joined the technology alliance so far. China has started soliciting views on its own chiplet standard, which was drafted by the CCITA and China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The global market for processor microchips that use chiplets in their manufacturing process is expected to reach US$5.8 billion in 2024, rising ninefold from US$645 million in 2018, according to Omdia, a market research firm, which said market size could expand to US$57 billion by 2035.