Research firm says Huawei's Kirin 9000S isn't a true 7nm chipset

The launch of the Huawei Mate 60 Pro, featuring the 7nm 5G-enabled Kirin 9000S chip, has confused American officials because SMIC was decades behind the competition last year. However, according to a new report from the South China Morning Post, the Kirin 9000S might not be a 7nm chip after all.

Why is SMIC using 7nm technology important to the US?

In 2020, when the US imposed restrictions on Huawei, the company lost its ability to conduct business with almost all Western companies. While the US did allow Huawei to source the non-5G-enabled Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, the company invested resources in developing chips with SMIC, which was still using the age-old 14nm node process.

However, the tables turned with the launch of the Kirin 9000S chip, as it was not only capable of accessing 5G services but also had performance on par with the 7nm chips. However, if true, this would have put SMIC in violation of the US sanctions. Moreover, with recent reports of the company stockpiling raw materials for the Kirin 9000S chip, it seemed that SMIC was preparing for stricter US sanctions.

How did Huawei achieve the performance?

According to the report, Minatake Mitchell Kashio, CEO of electronics research firm Fomalhaut Techno Solutions, explained that Kirin 9000S is not the true 7nm marvel it’s claimed to be but is, in fact, a product of SMIC’s 14nm process. Additionally, he highlighted that Huawei and SMIC used special techniques to enhance the chip’s performance, bringing it in line with the capabilities of a 7nm processor.

Therefore, the chip’s production didn’t breach U.S. sanctions, as SMIC had the capacity for 14nm chip manufacturing pre-ban. Moreover, it will also mean that the performance of the Huawei Mate 60 Pro isn’t as impressive as thought earlier. However, despite the report, the benchmark scores of the Kirin 9000S chips align with true 7nm chips, thus making the reports uncertain.