If you divide China’s regions according to the prosperity of the semiconductor industry, Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen are the core cities. When it comes to “domestic chips”, there should be not many people who can think of Changsha.
In 1956, Beijing had the first batch of students who graduated from Peking University’s semiconductor physics major, and in 1968 built the first IC professional chemical factory in China. After more than 60 years of development, Shanghai has formed a complete integrated circuit industry chain from design, manufacturing to packaging and testing. Among them, SMIC, the leading foundry in mainland China, is located in Shanghai. In Shenzhen, a single Huawei HiSilicon is enough to become the label of the city’s chip industry.
In Changsha, behind the dazzling Beishangshen, companies with the core CPU and GPU capabilities of domestic independent computer systems gather here. As an inland city, how did Changsha carry the banner of domestic chip design and become a gathering place for domestic chips?
The picture comes from the official website of Jingjiawei
Industrial transfer from televisions to integrated circuits
Changsha’s semiconductor industry started late and has a short time. “Changsha General History” records that Changsha’s electronics industry began in 1933 with the province’s first tube radio assembled by Hunan Electric Appliance Manufacturing Company. In the short years after that, Changsha developed the electronics industry centered on the radio. In 1936, a factory in Hunan was built for the production of radio communication equipment and radios.
Classic tube radio, image via iStock
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Changsha, which started with the manufacture of radio and television equipment and related components, has logically become one of the earliest designated areas for TV sets in the country in the era of planned economy. After the reform and opening up, with the explosion of demand for consumer Electronic products, Changsha introduced large-scale advanced production lines, and the output of consumer electronic products such as radios and televisions increased exponentially. Production and television became the pillar industry of the province’s electronics industry at that time.
Until the end of 1988, the output of color TVs in Changsha and even the whole of Hunan reached the highest level in history. When the development of color picture tubes was the most prosperous, its output value accounted for half of the province’s electronic information industry. In the same year, the total output of integrated circuits in my country reached 100 million and entered the era of large-scale industrialization, which was 23 years away from the time when the first integrated circuit was built in my country.
Until the rise of liquid crystal Display technology, LG Shuguang, which produced color picture tubes, was eliminated from the market and left the Changsha Economic and Technological Development Zone. The closing of the leading enterprises brought a heavy blow to Changsha’s electronic information industry. At this time, Changsha realized that its electronic information It is not feasible for the industry to rely solely on TV sets and a certain leading enterprise, and it is imperative to establish an industrial cluster.
Therefore, during the “Eleventh Five-Year Plan” period (2006 to 2010), Hunan Province built 11 provincial-level electronic information industrial parks in its 9 cities and prefectures, and introduced large enterprises and large projects to drive supporting enterprises with leading enterprises. way to accelerate the formation of industrial clusters. Among them, the provincial capital Changsha is responsible for undertaking advantageous industries such as intelligent terminals, power electronics and integrated circuits.
This is another effort in the field of integrated circuits since Changsha was classified as the first batch of national integrated circuit design industrialization bases by the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2001.
Jingjiawei and Guokewei on the “Long March”
Today, the two most prestigious chip design companies in Changsha are Jingjia Micro and Guoke Micro. Jingjia Micro focuses on the research and development of graphics processing chips (GPUs), and has evolved from successful application in national key projects to commercial versions. Now it can support domestic CPUs and domestic operating systems. Guoke Micro has a wide range of businesses, involving smart set-top boxes, storage, and the Internet of Things.
The two companies have many things in common. Both were founded during the “Eleventh Five-Year Plan” period, and both received the first phase of investment from the National Fund. The founding team members all graduated from universities in Changsha, Hunan, but none of them had overseas study experience. Before the establishment of the company, there was no core technology and patents to support it, which is obviously different from the start-up teams of many AI chip start-up companies. The development of these two companies is more like a crossover and a long march.
Zeng Wanhui, the founder of Jingjiawei, graduated from the National Defense University of Science and Technology with a major in microwave and millimeter wave technology. Before deciding to start a business, he was a cadre in the system. In an interview with the media, he admitted that he was not used to a dull life, and finally decided to resign to start an innovative high-tech company with alumnus Hu Yahua and senior brother Rao Xianhong.
At the beginning of Jingjiawei’s establishment, Zeng Wanhui and the other two founders accepted the task of developing a certain chip graphics card driver software from a research institute of AVIC in order to seek business. It took three years to complete it successfully, and it was even more difficult for Jing Jiawei, who was still young at the time.
However, several founders and technical backbones are not afraid of difficulties, exploring from the lowest level of technology, leading the team to work more than 16 hours a day, and finally successfully completed this task and opened up the company.
Panorama of Jingjiawei Company, the picture comes from Jingjiawei’s official website
In the process of developing graphics processor chips with completely independent intellectual property rights, Zeng Wanhui and his team gathered more than 50 technical backbones of the company, spent 8 years, and raised more than 30 million yuan on the condition that the state invested several million yuan Funds, and finally succeeded in 2014, developed the first domestic high-reliability, low-power GPU chip-JM5400, with completely independent intellectual property rights, and has been successfully applied in many national key projects.
In the subsequent development, Jingjia Micro launched a new generation of self-developed high-performance and high-reliability GPU chip JM7200 in 2018 and successfully taped it out. This chip can provide display capabilities for various information systems. In 2019, Jingjiawei launched a commercial version of the GPU for the first time, which fully supports domestic CPUs and domestic operating systems.
The development history of Guokewei is even more special. Its CEO Xiang Ping was a science and technology reporter before starting his business. He has neither a technical background nor engaged in scientific research and development. In 2004, he resigned from the newspaper office in Shenzhen and returned to his hometown of Changsha to start his integration. circuit business.
In Xiang Ping’s words, he chose to return to Changsha because the cost of living in this place is not high, and it is suitable for doing scientific research behind closed doors. In addition, Changsha has many famous colleges and universities, and the reserve of human resources is sufficient. So Xiang Ping founded Guokewei in 2008, and recruited Fu Jun, a former Huawei executive, as general manager, and Jiang Li, a former researcher at Fujitsu Research Institute in Japan, as chief technology officer and deputy general manager. Jiang Li developed HDTV and MPEG-4Codec chips when he was at Fujitsu in Japan.
Guoke Micro started in the field of radio and TV series chips. The earliest product was a security decoding chip, which was released in 2011. After large-scale shipments, it became the mainstream of the “every village” and “every household” set-top box market. solution. This chip is of great significance. It is the first domestic security decoding chip after the domestic radio and television chips rely heavily on imports and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television of China promulgated the radio and television standards, breaking through the technological monopoly of foreign manufacturers.
In the follow-up development, Guoke Microelectronics has extended to the field of intelligent video surveillance and storage. In 2019, it released the first fully autonomous solid-state hard disk control chip in China, equipped with domestic independent embedded CPU IP cores, becoming a truly fully autonomous solid-state drive in China. Hard disk control chip.
Guoke Micro’s fully independent storage main control chip GK2302 concept map, the picture comes from the official website of Guoke Micro
As a gathering place for domestic chips, in addition to Jingjiawei’s domestic GPU and Guokewei’s solid-state hard drive, the headquarters of China Great Wall, the shareholder of domestic CPU Feiteng, is also located in Changsha, and Jinxin Electronics, which has a number of technological breakthroughs in the field of DSP Also located in Changsha. This means that Changsha accounts for three of the four major chip components: CPU, GPU, DSP, and FPGA. It is currently the only city in the country that can realize the design of the three major chips in China, filling the gaps in many domestic chips.
Closely related to Changsha’s integrated circuit industry, Changsha’s university clusters have been continuously supplying talents for the industry through the combination of production, education and research. National Defense University of Science and Technology was approved by the Ministry of Education in 2015 as one of the first demonstration microelectronics colleges to be established in the country. core key technologies. The development process of Jingjiawei has already confirmed the chip strength of National Defense Science and Technology University.
In addition, China’s first three-dimensional packaging “973” project was completed in Central South University, and Central South University has since become a technology and talent reserve in the field of chip packaging in China.
Breaking the technical blockade of power devices
In addition to the “three major pieces” of chips that are the core of the computer system, Changsha’s integrated circuit industry also performs well in power devices, especially IGBTs.
IGBT is an insulated gate bipolar transistor. As a kind of power semiconductor device, it is the core device for energy conversion and transmission. It is equivalent to the CPU of power electronic devices. It is used in rail transit, smart grid, aerospace, electric vehicles and new energy equipment. It is widely used in other fields, and its high-end products have long been occupied by Europe, America, Japan and South Korea.
However, the monopoly of medium and high-end IGBT chip technology by foreign countries was broken in 2014. This year, the world’s second and China’s first 8-inch IGBT chip production line landed in Zhuzhou, Hunan, with an annual output of 240,000 pieces and an annual output value of over 2 billion. In the third year after the completion of the production line, the first domestic semiconductor power device and application innovation center also settled in Zhuzhou, Hunan. Leading the development of domestic power semiconductor devices.
The IGBT industry in Hunan is becoming more and more prosperous, and the scope of radiation is gradually expanding. In March 2020, the Changsha BYD IGBT project was officially launched, which is used to produce electronic core power devices for new energy vehicles, and is committed to breaking foreign technology blockades.
As always keen on the development direction of the electronic information industry, the third-generation semiconductors that have been hot in 2020 are also the focus of the development of Changsha’s semiconductor industry in the past two years, and can be seen in the planning of the integrated circuit industry in Hunan Province in recent years. .
Relevant information shows that Hunan proposed an integrated circuit industry plan in 2015. Since 2015, the first two years are the initial stage, and the next three years are the development stage, focusing on the development of CPU, GPU and other designs, and taking power semiconductors as a breakthrough to achieve integration. The localization of key circuit equipment and materials, and the sales revenue of integrated circuits will exceed 40 billion yuan by 2020.
Last year, Hunan Province also released the “Hunan Digital Economy Development Plan (2020-2025)”, proposing that in addition to achieving breakthroughs in the industrialization of high-end chips such as CPU, GPU, DSP, SSD, 4K/8K, and 5G, it also plans to deploy a new generation of semiconductors. industry, and promote major projects such as IGBT and third-generation semiconductors.
In specific practice, Changsha has made frequent moves on the third-generation semiconductors in recent years.
On November 3, 2018, the Tianyue Carbide Material Project started construction in Liuyang High-tech Zone, Changsha. According to the Hunan Daily report at the time, the start of the project marked the construction of the largest third-generation semiconductor silicon carbide material project and a complete set of process production lines in China. .
In 2019, Tyco Tianrun Semiconductor’s 6-inch semiconductor silicon carbide power device production line project settled in Changsha, with a total investment of 1.5 billion.
In July 2020, Sanan Optoelectronics also signed a contract with Changsha, with a total investment of 16 billion yuan, aiming to build a substrate (silicon carbide), epitaxy, chip and packaging industry production base with independent intellectual property rights.
According to incomplete statistics, as of August 2020, the third-generation semiconductor projects in Changsha have exceeded 20 billion yuan.
Today, with the support of many industrial policies and the hot trend of third-generation semiconductors, the third-generation semiconductors will become another specialty of Changsha’s integrated circuit industry after the “three major pieces” of chips and LGBT chips.