China's YMTC scrounges for billions to help bypass US sanctions

Meanwhile, RISC-V has Uncle Sam rattled

China's YMTC is being forced by US sanctions to raise fresh capital, as lawmakers continue to press for tougher action against Beijing, including restrictions on the RISC-V instruction set architecture.

The Chip Wars continue apace, with reports that YMTC (Yangtze Memory Technologies Co), China's largest memory chip maker, has had to appeal for new funding after burning through cash reserves in its efforts to adapt to sanctions imposed by Washington.

According to the Financial Times, YMTC has already used up $7 billion in capital it received from shareholders earlier this year, including from the state-run China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund.

This was used up on replacing equipment and the development of new components and chipmaking tools, following the company being placed on US blacklists last year that barred it from buying American-made chip design and manufacturing kit.

Sources familiar with the situation said the new funding is "equivalent to billions of dollars," but did not confirm a precise figure.

There was industry chatter at the time of the blacklisting that YMTC could face significant issues with memory manufacturing and it was even suggested the company might be forced to exit the 3D NAND market.

YMTC appears to be surviving, however, and is now reportedly shipping an advanced 232-layer quad-level cell (QLC) flash chip, described by TechInsights as the world's most advanced 3D NAND memory.

This was discovered in a 1 TB SSD launched in July and claimed by the analyst as having the highest bit density seen in a commercially available NAND product.

Last month, YMTC chairman Chen Nanxiang was elected head of the China Semiconductor Industry Association (CSIA) and called for unity among members amid US sanctions, according to the South China Morning Post.

Chen said China's semiconductor industry was facing "unprecedented upheaval," but at the same time had a great opportunity to develop native technology.

This will no doubt lead to renewed calls from senior US figures for even tighter restrictions to contain Beijing's semiconductor ambitions. Last month, the Biden administration revealed updated trade restrictions focused on limiting Chinese access to AI technology such as GPU accelerators.

One area that continues to pose concern for Washington is the RISC-V open instruction set architecture, which is being adopted in processors by Chinese companies because it is not controlled by any single company or country.

Reuters reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers is now pushing the Biden administration for plans to prevent China from achieving dominance in RISC-V, according to a letter the group sent to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

An element said to be under consideration is asking the Department of Commerce to extend to RISC-V an existing executive order that requires US companies to get an export license before working with any Chinese organization.

RISC-V International, the non-profit that maintains and publishes the specifications, has already spoken out about any potential US government moves to restrict access. CEO Calista Redmond said this might lead to a bifurcation of the standard and "a world of incompatible solutions."

She also said the published RISC-V standards contain "no more information than what is already published by proprietary architectures" and the only difference is that no proprietary license is required to build a RISC-V product. In other words, the RISC-V specifications are not a blueprint to make a chip.

The global RISC-V Summit takes place next week, November 7-8, in Santa Clara, California. ®

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