Taiwan further restricts the sale of modern chips to Russia and Belarus

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Punishing sanctions haven’t deterred Russia from its brutal war of aggression. These sanctions include denying Russia the use of advanced semiconductors, which it could use in support of its war. Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) has announced a new list of technology items that are now banned from sale to Russia and its close ally, Belarus.

According to Digitimes (opens in new tab) (via The Register (opens in new tab)) the bans include pretty much any kind of processor made in the last 30 years. This means that Russia will find it increasingly difficult to source chips for its war operation, but beyond that, even chips for common items like smartphones, consumer electronics and vehicles will be difficult to attain.

According to Digitimes, the list of banned CPUs includes any model with the following features or characteristics:

  • Has performance of 5 GFLOPS or higher
  • Operates at 25 MHz or higher
  • An arithmetic logic unit of 32 bits or wider
  • Has an external interconnect speed of 2.5 MB/s or over
  • Has more than 144 pins
  • Has a basic gate propagation delay time of less than 0.4 nanoseconds

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To put this into perspective, Intel’s i386 from the mid 1980s was introduced at 12.5MHz, reaching 40MHz by the late 80s. In terms of GFLOPs, a PlayStation 2 that debuted in 2000 is capable of 6.2 GFLOPs, though it runs at around 300MHz. This means that some processors from nearly 40 years ago would be banned. 

Russia does have its own semiconductor industry, though it’s not exactly cutting edge. The Russian government said it wants to have 28nm manufacturing up and running by 2030, but with the current sanctions in place, almost all of its manufacturing technology will have to be developed in Russia. Easier said than done.

Even China, which is in a much better economic position than Russia, still doesn’t have a competitive semiconductor industry, meaning Russia isn’t likely to have access to advanced chips anytime soon.

According to Senate testimony from US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo last month, some Russian military equipment is being found with semiconductors taken from items like dishwashers and refrigerators. Raimondo testified that two of Russia’s major tank manufacturing facilities have been forced to shut down because of a lack of foreign parts. That might explain why Russia is resorting to using T-62 battle tanks (opens in new tab) that ceased production in the Soviet Union in 1975!

Sales of advanced lithography and semiconductor manufacturing equipment has also been blocked by Taiwan and other countries. Russian chips aren’t going to be setting any performance records anytime soon, if ever.