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Chinese companies advance in producing high-bandwidth memory for AI chipsets

By Fanny Potkin and Eduardo Baptista

SINGAPORE/BEIJING (Reuters) – Two Chinese chipmakers are starting to produce high-bandwidth memory (HBM) semiconductors used in artificial intelligence chipsets, according to sources and documents.

The progress in HBM – if only in older versions of HBM – represents a major step forward in China’s efforts to reduce its dependence on foreign suppliers amid tensions with Washington that have led to restrictions on US exports of advanced chipsets to Chinese companies.

CXMT, China’s top DRAM chipmaker, has developed HBM chip samples in partnership with chip packaging and testing company Tongfu Microelectronics, according to three people briefed on the matter. The chips are presented to customers, two of them said.

In another example, Wuhan Xinxin is building a factory that will be capable of producing 3,000 12-inch HBM wafers per month. Construction is expected to begin in February this year, according to documents from the Qichacha corporate database.

CXMT and other Chinese chip companies have also held regular meetings with South Korean and Japanese semiconductor equipment companies to purchase tools to develop HBM, two of the people said.

The sources were not authorized to speak on the matter and declined to be identified. Hefei-based CXMT or ChangXin Memory Technologies and Tongfu Microelectronics did not respond to requests for comment.

Wuhan Xinxin, which has told regulators it wants to go public, and its parent company did not respond to requests for comment. The parent company is also the parent company of NAND memory specialist YMTC or Yangtze Memory Technologies. YMTC said it does not have the capacity to mass produce HBMs.

CXMT and Wuhan Xinxin are private companies that have received funding from the local government to advance technologies as China pours capital into developing its chip sector.

The local Wuhan government also did not respond to requests for comment.

Separately, Chinese tech giant Huawei – which the US considers a national security threat and is under sanctions – aims to produce HBM2 chips in partnership with other domestic companies by 2026 , according to one of the sources and another person with knowledge of the news. the question.

The Information reported in April that a Huawei-led group of companies aiming to make HBM includes Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit, a memory chip maker also under U.S. sanctions.

Huawei, which has seen demand skyrocket for its Ascend AI chips, declined to comment. It is unclear where Huawei is purchasing HBM. Fujian Jinhua did not respond to a request for comment.

A long journey ahead

HBM – a type of DRAM standard first produced in 2013 in which chips are stacked vertically to save space and reduce power consumption – is ideal for processing massive amounts of data produced by data processing applications. Complex AI and demand has skyrocketed amid the AI ​​boom.

The HBM market is dominated by South Korea’s SK Hynix – until recently, analysts say, the only HBM supplier to AI chip giant Nvidia – as well as Samsung and, to a lesser extent, the US company Micron Technology. All three make the latest standard – HBM3 chips – and are working to bring the fifth-generation HBM or HMB3E to customers this year.

China’s efforts are currently focused on HBM2, according to two of the sources and another person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The United States has not placed restrictions on HBM chip exports per se, but HBM3 chips are made using American technology that many Chinese companies, including Huawei, do not have access to under the restrictions.

Nori Chiou, chief investment officer at White Oak Capital and a former analyst who has studied the IT sector, believes Chinese chipmakers are a decade behind their global competitors in the HBM business.

“China has a considerable way to go, as it currently does not have the competitive edge to compete with its Korean counterparts, even in traditional memory markets,” he said.

“Nevertheless, (CXMT’s) collaboration with Tongfu represents a significant opportunity for China to advance its capabilities in memory and advanced packaging technologies in the HBM market.”

Patents filed by CXMT, Tongfu and Huawei indicate that HBM’s domestic development plans date back at least three years, when China’s chip industry increasingly became the target of U.S. export controls.

CXMT has filed nearly 130 patents in the United States, China and Taiwan for various technical issues related to the manufacturing and functionality of HBM chips, according to Anaqua’s AcclaimIP database. Of these, 14 were released in 2022, 46 in 2023 and 69 in 2024.

A Chinese patent, published last month, shows the company is exploring advanced packaging techniques such as hybrid bonding to create a more powerful HBM product. A separate filing shows that CXMT is also investing in developing the technology needed to create HBM3.

(Reporting by Fanny Potkin in Singapore and Eduardo Baptista in Beijing; additional reporting by Heekyong Yang and Joyce Lee in Seoul; editing by Brenda Goh and Edwina Gibbs)

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