ASML joins with Samsung, SK hynix, for chip research lab in South Korea

'Semiconductor alliance' forms as Huawei debuts another chip it shouldn't be able to make

Dutch photolithography dominator ASML has reached an agreement to build its first-ever offshore research lab, to be located in South Korea in partnership with Samsung.

Announced during a state visit to The Netherlands by South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol, the $750 million facility will work to "develop cutting-edge semiconductor processing technology using next-generation EUV (extreme ultraviolet lithography) equipment." South Korea's other big chipmaker, SK hynix, will work with ASML to reduce EUV machines' energy consumption.

President Yoon visited ASML headquarters in Veldhoven on Tuesday and reportedly was allowed to visit a secure clean room. Korean media reports that Samsung Electronics executive chair Lee Jae-yong and SK chairman Chey Tae-won also visited ASML, but it's unclear if the Dutch firm let the execs into the inner sanctum.

South Korean officials framed the deal in the context of a "semiconductor alliance" with the Netherlands, with the collab reflecting each nation's status as a global leader, and Samsung and SK hynix's status as big buyers of photolithography kit as they pursue growth in silicon products such as memory, solid state storage, and SoCs.

The alliance also reflects coalition-building efforts led by the US to ensure that silicon supply chains are resilient and, wherever possible, don't link to the People's Republic of China.

ASML's machines are essential for the creation of the most sophisticated silicon. The US fears that the output of ASML's finest helps China's military to develop technologies and weapons that represent a threat to national security. Successive US administrations have imposed export controls on tech made by Yankee businesses to ensure it doesn't reach the Middle Kingdom, and worked hard to have key suppliers in allied nations do likewise.

Now two of those countries have teamed up to develop advanced tech.

The White House will likely be very pleased.

China, meanwhile, continues to produce chips boasting specs that seemingly defy sanctions. In September 2023, Huawei debuted a smartphone packing a processor built on a 7nm process – the very sort of kit US sanctions were designed to prevent from being made in the People's Republic. This week, Chinese media reported Huawei has done even better by debuting a 5nm laptop chip.

It's unclear whether Chinese foundries are somehow making this stuff, or if the chips are the result of gray market imports.

Whatever the source, ASML, SK hynix and Samsung are working to do even better. ®

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