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IFTLE 382 Semiconductor Activity in China – Betting on AI

By Dr. Phil Garrou, Contributing Editor

China is by far the largest consumer of semiconductors reportedly accounting for 45 percent of the worldwide demand for chips, used both in China and for exports. More than 90 percent of its consumption relies on imported ICs.

At the end of 2016 IC Insights reported that China was responsible for ~ 11% of the worlds wafer capacity.

fig 1

China has been working to reduce its dependence on technology imports, including computer chips for several years. In March, it was reported that state-backed China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund Co. is in talks with government agencies to raise at least $24B to build up China’s domestic semiconductor industry. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that China is poised to announce a new fund of ~ $47B for development of its semiconductor industry and close the technology gap with the U.S. and other rivals.[link]

While the existence of such a fund has been rumored for months, the size of the fund has been hard to pin down. A few weeks ago, Reuters reported that the fund would be $19B, while Bloomberg reported $31.5B two months ago. The exact number appears to be under consideration among the Chinese leadership, and tied to the increasingly tense trade negotiations with the United States. If $47B is indeed the correct number, it would be identical in size to the $47 billion fund that was financed by Tsinghua University, to spur the development of an indigenous semiconductor industry back in 2015.

While China is playing catchup in many semiconductor areas, it has also been placing its bets on new areas like 5G wireless and AI (artificial intelligence) chips. [link].

China releases its first cloud AI chip

Beijing artificial intelligence (AI) chip maker Cambricon Technologies Corp Ltd has just announced two new products, a cloud-based smart chip Cambricon MLU100 and a new version of its AI processor, Cambricon 1M, in Shanghai on May 3rd.

The cloud chip MLU100, developed by China’s Cambricon Technology, is China’s first cloud artificial intelligence (AI) chip developed to have big data processing ability, for image and voice searching [link].

fig 2

Cambricon 1M is the company’s third generation AI chip (gen 1 was in 2015) for “edge devices.” An edge device is a device which provides an entry point into enterprise or service provider networks such as routers, routing switches, integrated access devices (IADs), multiplexers, and WAN (wide area network) access devices. Using TSMC 7nm technology, the AI chip can be used in smartphones, smart speakers, cameras, and smart driving.

Cambricon MLU100 supports cloud-based machine learning, including vision, audio and natural language processing. It can process under complex scenarios, such as “…with huge amounts of data, multi-tasks, multi-modality and low latency.” This processor reportedly can provide 166 TFLOPS in high-performance mode with energy consumption of no more than 110 watts at peak. The MLU100 is built with TSMC 16nm technology.

Lenovo has announced that their ThinkSystem SR650 server is based on the MLU100. Products built around MLU100 were also announced by Sugon and iFlytek who also announced collaboration with Cambricon [link]

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