Unlike the 3D NAND solid-state memory industry, in which the Chinese company YMTC is literally one generation behind the world leaders, the production of DRAM memory chips is given to Chinese companies with great difficulty. According to South Korean experts, the Chinese CXMT is a couple of generations and five years behind its Korean rivals in this area.
For example, as Business Korea explains, CXMT, the leader in the production of DRAM in China, has announced its readiness to start manufacturing products using technologies with standards from 16 to 17 nm this year, while Korean SK hynix and Samsung Electronics are going to switch to using 12nm and 13nm technologies combined with EUV lithography. Each generation of lithographic technology in the memory chip industry is separated from the previous one by about two or two and a half years, so Chinese DRAM manufacturers lag behind their Korean counterparts by about five years, according to experts.
The same CXMT, according to them, suffers from a low level of yield. Even having mastered the release of memory on 19-nm and 18-nm technologies in 2019, now it receives only three-quarters of suitable chips from a silicon wafer. In the next generation, the level of yield of suitable CXMT products does not exceed 40%. As a result, the company’s share in the world market does not exceed one percent. According to Korean analysts, the Chinese memory chip industry will not be able to catch up with foreign competitors as sharply as it did in the display industry.
The lag in the field of solid-state memory technology for Chinese companies is noticeably smaller, but still reaches a couple of years. Korean companies are going to mass-produce 3D NAND chips with more than 200 layers by the end of this or early next year, and the Chinese YMTC is unlikely to be able to do this before 2024. From the further convergence of YMTC with Korean competitors, the company may be deterred by the introduction of specific sanctions by the United States, but so far this factor has not limited the development of this segment of the Chinese industry.
In the contract manufacturing segment for more complex microcircuits, China lags behind South Korea by about five years. Samsung Electronics can already produce 5nm and 4nm products for its customers, and the Chinese SMIC has not advanced further than 14nm – largely due to US sanctions, by the way. Further development of advanced lithography without switching to ultra-hard ultraviolet (EUV) radiation seems difficult, but this is where US sanctions against SMIC come into force.