Heated seats, Switch 2 demos, and Chinese chips
Instruction Set 2023/9/8
Welcome back to Multicore. This is a slightly late Instruction Set for the week of Friday, September 8th.
There’s going to be a lot happening in the next few days. In the meantime, here’s what went on this past week.
Huawei has apparently managed to develop a relatively advanced smartphone system-on-chip despite US export restrictions. The Mate 60 Pro phone uses a homegrown Kirin 9000s chip designed by Huawei’s own HiSilicon unit and manufactured by China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC). Huawei isn’t revealing much about the 9000s’ specs, but it’s clear that the chip represents a step-up in SMIC’s capabilities.
My former colleague Vlad Savov, now at Bloomberg, bought a Mate 60 Pro in Hong Kong and shipped it to TechInsights in Canada for teardown analysis. Somehow, it’s still not known whether the phone has conventional 5G capability, though Vlad’s testing showed it could at least deliver comparable speeds. What does seem indisputable is that the Kirin 9000s is the first chip to be manufactured on SMIC’s latest 7nm process.
To be clear, China is still years behind Taiwan’s TSMC, which is up and running with 3nm chips for the new high-end iPhones that Apple will announce next week. TSMC makes use of extreme ultraviolet lithography machines that are only produced by a single manufacturer, ASML in the Netherlands, which Chinese companies are banned from importing. But SMIC was generally thought to be only capable of making 14nm chips at scale, which would make them far less competitive in terms of performance and efficiency.
“This shows that Chinese companies like Huawei still have plenty of capability to innovate,” said Chris Miller, author of the excellent book Chip War, to The Washington Post. “I think it will also probably intensify debate in Washington on whether restrictions are to be tightened.” TF International Securities analyst Ming-chi Kuo, meanwhile, says that US chip giant Qualcomm will lose all of Huawei’s business from 2024 onward and may risk losing share to Huawei for orders from other phone OEMs.
The Mate 60 Pro sold out online on the first day of availability, which clouds the matter of exactly how much capacity SMIC has for these chips. It’s possible that yield levels are low enough that the phone is more statement of intent than genuine commercial contender. Still, it’s a significant statement nonetheless that will have the world wondering when, not whether, China will be able to break through the 7nm barrier.
More news from Ming-chi Kuo: he now doesn’t expect Apple to launch M3 Macs this year. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has previously pegged the M3 for a possible debut in October in entry-level machines like the Mac mini and MacBook Air. Given this year’s launch of the M2 Pro mini and M2 15-inch Air, together with the fact that the Vision Pro headset runs on an M2, I think a 2024 debut for the M3 generation makes more sense.
As long as the M2 line remains as competitive as it currently is — for the foreseeable future, in other words — the naming of a successor is somewhat academic. I would err on the side of Apple not rushing this out.
Toyota had to shut down all 14 of its Japanese assembly plants for two days last week due to a mysterious system malfunction. Was it a cyberattack? A data breach? Nope, turns out they just ran out of disk space.
Here’s Toyota’s explanation:
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