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Integrated circuit

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory (EPROM) integrated circuits.  These packages have a transparent window that shows the die inside. The window is used to erase the memory by exposing the chip to ultraviolet light.
Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory (EPROM) integrated circuits. These packages have a transparent window that shows the die inside. The window is used to erase the memory by exposing the chip to ultraviolet light.
Integrated circuit from an EPROM memory microchip showing the memory blocks, the supporting circuitry and the fine silver wires which connect the integrated circuit die to the legs of the packaging.
Integrated circuit from an EPROM memory microchip showing the memory blocks, the supporting circuitry and the fine silver wires which connect the integrated circuit die to the legs of the packaging.
Virtual detail of an integrated circuit through four layers of planarized copper interconnect, down to the polysilicon (pink), wells (greyish), and substrate (green)
Virtual detail of an integrated circuit through four layers of planarized copper interconnect, down to the polysilicon (pink), wells (greyish), and substrate (green)

An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit (also referred to as an IC, a chip, or a microchip) is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece (or "chip") of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, cheaper, and faster than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs.

Integrated circuits were made practical by mid-20th-century technology advancements in semiconductor device fabrication. Since their origins in the 1960s, the size, speed, and capacity of chips have progressed enormously, driven by technical advances that fit more and more transistors on chips of the same size – a modern chip may have many billions of transistors in an area the size of a human fingernail. These advances, roughly following Moore's law, make computer chips of today possess millions of times the capacity and thousands of times the speed of the computer chips of the early 1970s.

ICs have two main advantages over discrete circuits: cost and performance. Cost is low because the chips, with all their components, are printed as a unit by photolithography rather than being constructed one transistor at a time. Furthermore, packaged ICs use much less material than discrete circuits. Performance is high because the IC's components switch quickly and consume comparatively little power because of their small size and close proximity. The main disadvantage of ICs is the high cost to design them and fabricate the required photomasks. This high initial cost means ICs are only practical when high production volumes are anticipated.

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  • ✪ Integrated Circuits & Moore’s Law: Crash Course Computer Science #17
  • ✪ Digital Electronics: Logic Gates - Integrated Circuits Part 1
  • ✪ What is an integrated circuit?
  • ✪ Jack Kilby and the Integrated Circuit
  • ✪ The Fabrication of Integrated Circuits


This episode is brought to you by Curiosity Stream. Hi, I’m Carrie Anne, and welcome to CrashCourse Computer Science! Over the past six episodes, we delved into software, from early programming efforts to modern software engineering practices. Within about 50 years, software grew in complexity from machine code punched by hand onto paper tape, to object oriented programming languages, compiled in integrated development environments. But this growth in sophistication would not have been possible without improvements in hardware. INTRO To appreciate computing hardware’s explosive growth in power and sophistication, we need to go back to the birth of electronic computing. From roughly the 1940’s through the mid-1960s, every computer was built from individual parts, called discrete components, which were all wired together. For example, the ENIAC, consisted of more than 17,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, and 7,000 diodes, all of which required 5 million hand-soldered connections. Adding more components to increase performance meant more connections, more wires, and just more complexity, what was dubbed the Tyranny of Numbers. By the mid 1950s, transistors were becoming commercially available and being incorporated into computers. These were much smaller, faster and more reliable than vacuum tubes, but each transistor was still one discrete component. In 1959, IBM upgraded their vacuum-tube-based “709” computers to transistors by replacing all the discrete vacuum tubes with discrete transistors. The new machine, the IBM 7090, was six times faster and half the cost. These transistorized computers marked the second generation of electronic computing. However, although faster and smaller, discrete transistors didn’t solve the Tyranny of Numbers. It was getting unwieldy to design, let alone physically manufacture computers with hundreds of thousands of individual components. By the the 1960s, this was reaching a breaking point. The insides of computers were often just huge tangles of wires. Just look at what the inside of a PDP-8 from 1965 looked like! The answer was to bump up a new level of abstraction, and package up underlying complexity! The breakthrough came in 1958, when Jack Kilby, working at Texas Instruments, demonstrated such an electronic part, “wherein all the components of the electronic circuit are completely integrated." Put simply: instead of building computer parts out of many discrete components and wiring them all together, you put many components together, inside of a new, single component. These are called Integrated Circuits, or ICs. A few months later in 1959, Fairchild Semiconductor, lead by Robert Noyce, made ICs practical. Kilby built his ICs out of germanium, a rare and unstable material. But, Fairchild used the abundant silicon, which makes up about a quarter of the earth's crust! It’s also more stable, therefore more reliable. For this reason, Noyce is widely regarded as the father of modern ICs, ushering in the electronics era... and also Silicon Valley, where Fairchild was based and where many other semiconductor companies would soon pop up. In the early days, an IC might only contain a simple circuit with just a few transistors, like this early Westinghouse example. But even this allowed simple circuits, like the logic gates from Episode 3, to be packaged up into a single component. ICs are sort of like lego for computer engineers “building blocks” that can be arranged into an infinite array of possible designs. However, they still have to be wired together at some point to create even bigger and more complex circuits, like a whole computer. For this, engineers had another innovation: printed circuit boards, or PCBs. Instead of soldering and bundling up bazillions of wires, PCBs, which could be mass manufactured, have all the metal wires etched right into them* to connect components together. By using PCBs and ICs together, one could achieve exactly the same functional circuit as that made from discrete components, but with far fewer individual components and tangled wires. Plus, it’s smaller, cheaper and more reliable. Triple win! Many early ICs were manufactured using teeny tiny discrete components packaged up as a single unit, like this IBM example from 1964. However, even when using really really itty-bitty components, it was hard to get much more than around five transistors onto a single IC. To achieve more complex designs, a radically different fabrication process was needed that changed everything: Photolithography! In short, it’s a way to use light to transfer complex patterns to a material, like a semiconductor. It only has a few basic operations, but these can be used to create incredibly complex circuits. Let’s walk through a simple, although extensive example, to make one of these! We start with a slice of silicon, which, like a thin cookie, is called a wafer. Delicious! Silicon, as we discussed briefly in episode 2, is special because it’s a semiconductor, that is, a material that can sometimes conduct electricity and other times does not. We can control where and when this happens, making Silicon the perfect raw material for making transistors. We can also use a wafer as a base to lay down complex metal circuits, so everything is integrated, perfect for... integrated circuits! The next step is to add a thin oxide layer on top of the silicon, which acts as a protective coating. Then, we apply a special chemical called a photoresist. When exposed to light, the chemical changes, and becomes soluble, so it can be washed away with a different special chemical. Photoresists aren’t very useful by themselves, but are super powerful when used in conjunction with a photomask. This is just like a piece of photographic film, but instead of a photo of a hamster eating a tiny burrito, it contains a pattern to be transferred onto the wafer. We do this by putting a photomask over the wafer, and turning on a powerful light. Where the mask blocks the light, the photoresist is unchanged. But where the light does hit the photoresist it changes chemically which lets us wash away only the photoresist that was exposed to light, selectively revealing areas of our oxide layer. Now, by using another special chemical, often an acid, we can remove any exposed oxide, and etch a little hole the entire way down to the raw silicon. Note that the oxide layer under the photoresist is protected. To clean up, we use yet another special chemical that washes away any remaining photoresist. Yep, there are a lot of special chemicals in photolithography, each with a very specific function! So now we can see the silicon again, we want to modify only the exposed areas to better conduct electricity. To do that, we need to change it chemically through a process called: doping. I’m not even going to make a joke. Let’s move on. Most often this is done with a high temperature gas, something like Phosphorus, which penetrates into the exposed area of silicon. This alters its electrical properties. We’re not going to wade into the physics and chemistry of semiconductors, but if you’re interested, there’s a link in the description to an excellent video by our friend Derek Muller from Veritasium. But, we still need a few more rounds of photolithography to build a transistor. The process essentially starts again, first by building up a fresh oxide layer ...which we coat in photoresist. Now, we use a photomask with a new and different pattern, allowing us to open a small window above the doped area. Once again, we wash away remaining photoresist. Now we dope, and avoid telling a hilarious joke, again, but with a different gas that converts part of the silicon into yet a different form. Timing is super important in photolithography in order to control things like doping diffusion and etch depth. In this case, we only want to dope a little region nested inside the other. Now we have all the pieces we need to create our transistor! The final step is to make channels in the oxide layer so that we can run little metal wires to different parts of our transistor. Once more, we apply a photoresist, and use a new photomask to etch little channels. Now, we use a new process, called metalization, that allows us to deposit a thin layer of metal, like aluminium or copper. But we don’t want to cover everything in metal. We want to etch a very specific circuit design. So, very similar to before, we apply a photoresist, use a photomask, dissolve the exposed resist, and use a chemical to remove any exposed metal. Whew! Our transistor is finally complete! It has three little wires that connect to three different parts of the silicon, each doped a particular way to create, in this example, what’s called a bipolar junction transistor. Here’s the actual patent from 1962, an invention that changed our world forever! Using similar steps, photolithography can create other useful electronic elements, like resistors and capacitors, all on a single piece of silicon (plus all the wires needed to hook them up into circuits). Goodbye discrete components! In our example, we made one transistor, but in the real world, photomasks lay down millions of little details all at once. Here is what an IC might look like from above, with wires crisscrossing above and below each other, interconnecting all the individual elements together into complex circuits. Although we could create a photomask for an entire wafer, we can take advantage of the fact that light can be focused and projected to any size we want. In the same way that a film can be projected to fill an entire movie screen, we can focus a photomask onto a very small patch of silicon, creating incredibly fine details. A single silicon wafer is generally used to create dozens of ICs. Then, once you’ve got a whole wafer full, you cut them up and package them into microchips, those little black rectangles you see in electronics all the time. Just remember: at the heart of each of those chips is one of these small pieces of silicon. As photolithography techniques improved, the size of transistors shrunk, allowing for greater densities. At the start of the 1960s, an IC rarely contained more than 5 transistors, they just couldn’t possibly fit. But, by the mid 1960s, we were starting to see ICs with over 100 transistors on the market. In 1965, Gordon Moore could see the trend: that approximately every two years, thanks to advances in materials and manufacturing, you could fit twice the number of transistors into the same amount of space. This is called Moore’s Law. The term is a bit of a misnomer though. It’s not really a law at all, more of a trend. But it’s a good one. IC prices also fell dramatically, from an average of $50 in 1962 to around $2 in 1968. Today, you can buy ICs for cents. Smaller transistors and higher densities had other benefits too. The smaller the transistor, the less charge you have to move around, allowing it to switch states faster and consume less power. Plus, more compact circuits meant less delay in signals resulting in faster clock speeds. In 1968, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore teamed up and founded a new company, combining the words Integrated and Electronics... Intel... the largest chip maker today. The Intel 4004 CPU, from Episodes 7 and 8, was a major milestone. Released in 1971, it was the first processor that shipped as an IC, what’s called a microprocessor, because it was so beautifully small! It contained 2,300 transistors. People marveled at the level of integration, an entire CPU in one chip, which just two decades earlier would have filled an entire room using discrete components. This era of integrated circuits, especially microprocessors, ushered in the third generation of computing. And the Intel 4004 was just the start. CPU transistor count exploded! By 1980, CPUs contained 30 thousand transistors. By 1990, CPUs breached the 1 million transistor count. By 2000, 30 million transistors, and by 2010, ONE. BILLION. TRANSISTORS. IN ONE. IC. OMG! To achieve this density, the finest resolution possible with photolithography has improved from roughly 10 thousand nanometers, that’s about 1/10th the thickness of a human hair, to around 14 nanometers today. That’s over 400 times smaller than a red blood cell! And of course, CPU’s weren’t the only components to benefit. Most electronics advanced essentially exponentially: RAM, graphics cards, solid state hard drives, camera sensors, you name it. Today’s processors, like the A10 CPU inside Of an iPhone 7, contains a mind melting 3.3 BILLION transistors in an IC roughly 1cm by 1cm. That’s smaller than a postage stamp! And modern engineers aren’t laying out these designs by hand, one transistor at a time - it’s not humanly possible. Starting in the 1970’s, very-large-scale integration, or VLSI software, has been used to automatically generate chip designs instead. Using techniques like logic synthesis, where whole, high-level components can be laid down, like a memory cache, the software generates the circuit in the most efficient way possible. Many consider this to be the start of fourth generation computers. Unfortunately, experts have been predicting the end of Moore’s Law for decades, and we might finally be getting close to it. There are two significant issues holding us back from further miniaturization. First, we’re bumping into limits on how fine we can make features on a photomask and it’s resultant wafer due to the wavelengths of light used in photolithography. In response, scientists have been developing light sources with smaller and smaller wavelengths that can project smaller and smaller features. The second issue is that when transistors get really really small, where electrodes might be separated by only a few dozen atoms, electrons can jump the gap, a phenomenon called quantum tunneling. If transistors leak current, they don’t make very good switches. Nonetheless, scientists and engineers are hard at work figuring out ways around these problems. Transistors as small as 1 nanometer have been demonstrated in research labs. Whether this will ever be commercially feasible remains MASKED in mystery. But maybe we’ll be able to RESOLVE it in the future. I’m DIEING to know. See you next week. Hey guys, this week’s episode was brought to you by CuriosityStream which is a streaming service full of documentaries and non­fiction titles from some really great filmmakers, including exclusive originals. Like a short documentary called “Birth of The Internet” that tells the story of the first ever Internet message transferred in 1969 between UCLA and Stanford University. This was a pivotal moment in computing history, but unlike Samuel Morse’s first telegraph or Neil Armstrong’s famous words on the moon the first message wasn’t quite so...ambitious. Anyway, get unlimited access today, and your first two months are free if you sign up at and use the promo code "crashcourse" during the sign-up process.



An integrated circuit is defined as:[1]

A circuit in which all or some of the circuit elements are inseparably associated and electrically interconnected so that it is considered to be indivisible for the purposes of construction and commerce.

Circuits meeting this definition can be constructed using many different technologies, including thin-film transistors, thick-film technologies, or hybrid integrated circuits. However, in general usage integrated circuit has come to refer to the single-piece circuit construction originally known as a monolithic integrated circuit.[2][3]

Arguably, the first examples of integrated circuits would include the Loewe 3NF.[4] Although far from a monolithic construction, it certainly meets the definition given above.


Early developments of the integrated circuit go back to 1949, when German engineer Werner Jacobi (Siemens AG)[5] filed a patent for an integrated-circuit-like semiconductor amplifying device[6] showing five transistors on a common substrate in a 3-stage amplifier arrangement. Jacobi disclosed small and cheap hearing aids as typical industrial applications of his patent. An immediate commercial use of his patent has not been reported.

The idea of the integrated circuit was conceived by Geoffrey Dummer (1909–2002), a radar scientist working for the Royal Radar Establishment of the British Ministry of Defence. Dummer presented the idea to the public at the Symposium on Progress in Quality Electronic Components in Washington, D.C. on 7 May 1952.[7] He gave many symposia publicly to propagate his ideas and unsuccessfully attempted to build such a circuit in 1956.

A precursor idea to the IC was to create small ceramic squares (wafers), each containing a single miniaturized component. Components could then be integrated and wired into a bidimensional or tridimensional compact grid. This idea, which seemed very promising in 1957, was proposed to the US Army by Jack Kilby and led to the short-lived Micromodule Program (similar to 1951's Project Tinkertoy).[8][9][10] However, as the project was gaining momentum, Kilby came up with a new, revolutionary design: the IC.

Jack Kilby's original integrated circuit
Jack Kilby's original integrated circuit

Newly employed by Texas Instruments, Kilby recorded his initial ideas concerning the integrated circuit in July 1958, successfully demonstrating the first working integrated example on 12 September 1958.[11] In his patent application of 6 February 1959,[12] Kilby described his new device as "a body of semiconductor material … wherein all the components of the electronic circuit are completely integrated."[13] The first customer for the new invention was the US Air Force.[14]

Kilby won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit.[15] His work was named an IEEE Milestone in 2009.[16]

Half a year after Kilby, Robert Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor developed a new variety of integrated circuit, more practical than Kilby's implementation. Noyce's design was made of silicon, whereas Kilby's chip was made of germanium. Noyce credited Kurt Lehovec of Sprague Electric for the principle of p–n junction isolation, a key concept behind the IC.[17] This isolation allows each transistor to operate independently despite being part of the same piece of silicon.

Fairchild Semiconductor was also home of the first silicon-gate IC technology with self-aligned gates, the basis of all modern CMOS integrated circuits. The technology was developed by Italian physicist Federico Faggin in 1968. In 1970, he joined Intel in order to develop the first single-chip central processing unit (CPU) microprocessor, the Intel 4004, for which he received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2010. The 4004 was designed by Busicom's Masatoshi Shima and Intel's Ted Hoff in 1969, but it was Faggin's improved design in 1970 that made it a reality.[18]


Advances in IC technology, primarily smaller features and larger chips, have allowed the number of transistors in an integrated circuit to double every two years, a trend known as Moore's law. This increased capacity has been used to decrease cost and increase functionality. In general, as the feature size shrinks, almost every aspect of an IC's operation improves. The cost per transistor and the switching power consumption per transistor goes down, while the memory capacity and speed go up, through the relationships defined by Dennard scaling.[19] Because speed, capacity, and power consumption gains are apparent to the end user, there is fierce competition among the manufacturers to use finer geometries. Over the years, transistor sizes have decreased from 10s of microns in the early 1970s to 10 nanometers in 2017 [20] with a corresponding million-fold increase in transistors per unit area. As of 2016, typical chip areas range from a few square millimeters to around 600 mm2, with up to 25 million transistors per mm2.[21]

The expected shrinking of feature sizes and the needed progress in related areas was forecast for many years by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS). The final ITRS was issued in 2016, and it is being replaced by the International Roadmap for Devices and Systems.[22]

Initially, ICs were strictly electronic devices. The success of ICs has led to the integration of other technologies, in an attempt to obtain the same advantages of small size and low cost. These technologies include mechanical devices, optics, and sensors.

  • Charge-coupled devices, and the closely related active pixel sensors, are chips that are sensitive to light. They have largely replaced photographic film in scientific, medical, and consumer applications. Billions of these devices are now produced each year for applications such as cellphones, tablets, and digital cameras. This sub-field of ICs won the Nobel prize in 2009.
  • Very small mechanical devices driven by electricity can be integrated onto chips, a technology known as microelectromechanical systems. These devices were developed in the late 1980s[23] and are used in a variety of commercial and military applications. Examples include DLP projectors, inkjet printers, and accelerometers and MEMS gyroscopes used to deploy automobile airbags.
  • Since the early 2000s, the integration of optical functionality (optical computing) into silicon chips has been actively pursued in both academic research and in industry resulting in the successful commercialization of silicon based integrated optical transceivers combining optical devices (modulators, detectors, routing) with CMOS based electronics.[24] Integrated optical circuits are also being developed, using the emerging field of physics known as photonics.
  • Integrated circuits are also being developed for sensor applications in medical implants or other bioelectronic devices.[25] Special sealing techniques have to be applied in such biogenic environments to avoid corrosion or biodegradation of the exposed semiconductor materials.[26]

As of 2018, the vast majority of all transistors are fabricated in a single layer on one side of a chip of silicon in a flat 2-dimensional planar process. Researchers have produced prototypes of several promising alternatives, such as:


The cost of designing and developing a complex integrated circuit is quite high, normally in the multiple tens of millions of dollars.[31] Therefore, it only makes economic sense to produce integrated circuit products with high production volume, so the non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs are spread across typically millions of production units.

Modern semiconductor chips have billions of components, and are too complex to be designed by hand. Software tools to help the designer are essential. Electronic Design Automation (EDA), also referred to as Electronic Computer-Aided Design (ECAD),[32] is a category of software tools for designing electronic systems, including integrated circuits. The tools work together in a design flow that engineers use to design and analyze entire semiconductor chips.


A CMOS 4511 IC in a DIP
A CMOS 4511 IC in a DIP

Integrated circuits can be classified into analog,[33] digital[34] and mixed signal,[35] consisting of both analog and digital signaling on the same IC.

Digital integrated circuits can contain anywhere from one[36] to billions[21] of logic gates, flip-flops, multiplexers, and other circuits in a few square millimeters. The small size of these circuits allows high speed, low power dissipation, and reduced manufacturing cost compared with board-level integration. These digital ICs, typically microprocessors, DSPs, and microcontrollers, work using boolean algebra to process "one" and "zero" signals.

The die from an Intel 8742, an 8-bit microcontroller that includes a CPU running at 12 MHz, 128 bytes of RAM, 2048 bytes of EPROM, and I/O in the same chip
The die from an Intel 8742, an 8-bit microcontroller that includes a CPU running at 12 MHz, 128 bytes of RAM, 2048 bytes of EPROM, and I/O in the same chip

Among the most advanced integrated circuits are the microprocessors or "cores", which control everything from personal computers and cellular phones to digital microwave ovens. Digital memory chips and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) are examples of other families of integrated circuits that are important to the modern information society.

In the 1980s, programmable logic devices were developed. These devices contain circuits whose logical function and connectivity can be programmed by the user, rather than being fixed by the integrated circuit manufacturer. This allows a single chip to be programmed to implement different LSI-type functions such as logic gates, adders and registers. Current devices called field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) can (as of 2016) implement the equivalent of millions of gates and operate at frequencies up to 1 GHz.[37]

Analog ICs, such as sensors, power management circuits, and operational amplifiers (op-amps), work by processing continuous signals. They perform functions like amplification, active filtering, demodulation, and mixing. Analog ICs ease the burden on circuit designers by having expertly designed analog circuits available instead of designing a difficult analog circuit from scratch.

ICs can also combine analog and digital circuits on a single chip to create functions such as analog-to-digital converters and digital-to-analog converters. Such mixed-signal circuits offer smaller size and lower cost, but must carefully account for signal interference. Prior to the late 1990s, radios could not be fabricated in the same low-cost CMOS processes as microprocessors. But since 1998, a large number of radio chips have been developed using CMOS processes. Examples include Intel's DECT cordless phone, or 802.11 (Wi-Fi) chips created by Atheros and other companies.[38]

Modern electronic component distributors often further sub-categorize the huge variety of integrated circuits now available:



Rendering of a small standard cell with three metal layers (dielectric has been removed). The sand-colored structures are metal interconnect, with the vertical pillars being contacts, typically plugs of tungsten. The reddish structures are polysilicon gates, and the solid at the bottom is the crystalline silicon bulk.
Rendering of a small standard cell with three metal layers (dielectric has been removed). The sand-colored structures are metal interconnect, with the vertical pillars being contacts, typically plugs of tungsten. The reddish structures are polysilicon gates, and the solid at the bottom is the crystalline silicon bulk.
Schematic structure of a CMOS chip, as built in the early 2000s. The graphic shows LDD-MISFET's on an SOI substrate with five metallization layers and solder bump for flip-chip bonding. It also shows the section for FEOL (front-end of line), BEOL (back-end of line) and first parts of back-end process.
Schematic structure of a CMOS chip, as built in the early 2000s. The graphic shows LDD-MISFET's on an SOI substrate with five metallization layers and solder bump for flip-chip bonding. It also shows the section for FEOL (front-end of line), BEOL (back-end of line) and first parts of back-end process.

The semiconductors of the periodic table of the chemical elements were identified as the most likely materials for a solid-state vacuum tube. Starting with copper oxide, proceeding to germanium, then silicon, the materials were systematically studied in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, monocrystalline silicon is the main substrate used for ICs although some III-V compounds of the periodic table such as gallium arsenide are used for specialized applications like LEDs, lasers, solar cells and the highest-speed integrated circuits. It took decades to perfect methods of creating crystals with minimal defects in semiconducting materials' crystal structure.

Semiconductor ICs are fabricated in a planar process which includes three key process steps – photolithography, deposition (such as chemical vapor deposition), and etching. The main process steps are supplemented by doping and cleaning.

Mono-crystal silicon wafers are used in most applications (or for special applications, other semiconductors such as gallium arsenide are used). The wafer need not be entirely silicon. Photolithography is used to mark different areas of the substrate to be doped or to have polysilicon, insulators or metal (typically aluminium or copper) tracks deposited on them. Dopants are impurities intentionally introduced to a semiconductor to modulate its electronic properties. Doping is the process of adding dopants to a semiconductor material.

  • Integrated circuits are composed of many overlapping layers, each defined by photolithography, and normally shown in different colors. Some layers mark where various dopants are diffused into the substrate (called diffusion layers), some define where additional ions are implanted (implant layers), some define the conductors (doped polysilicon or metal layers), and some define the connections between the conducting layers (via or contact layers). All components are constructed from a specific combination of these layers.
  • In a self-aligned CMOS process, a transistor is formed wherever the gate layer (polysilicon or metal) crosses a diffusion layer.
  • Capacitive structures, in form very much like the parallel conducting plates of a traditional electrical capacitor, are formed according to the area of the "plates", with insulating material between the plates. Capacitors of a wide range of sizes are common on ICs.
  • Meandering stripes of varying lengths are sometimes used to form on-chip resistors, though most logic circuits do not need any resistors. The ratio of the length of the resistive structure to its width, combined with its sheet resistivity, determines the resistance.
  • More rarely, inductive structures can be built as tiny on-chip coils, or simulated by gyrators.

Since a CMOS device only draws current on the transition between logic states, CMOS devices consume much less current than bipolar junction transistor devices.

A random-access memory is the most regular type of integrated circuit; the highest density devices are thus memories; but even a microprocessor will have memory on the chip. (See the regular array structure at the bottom of the first image.[which?]) Although the structures are intricate – with widths which have been shrinking for decades – the layers remain much thinner than the device widths. The layers of material are fabricated much like a photographic process, although light waves in the visible spectrum cannot be used to "expose" a layer of material, as they would be too large for the features. Thus photons of higher frequencies (typically ultraviolet) are used to create the patterns for each layer. Because each feature is so small, electron microscopes are essential tools for a process engineer who might be debugging a fabrication process.

Each device is tested before packaging using automated test equipment (ATE), in a process known as wafer testing, or wafer probing. The wafer is then cut into rectangular blocks, each of which is called a die. Each good die (plural dice, dies, or die) is then connected into a package using aluminium (or gold) bond wires which are thermosonically bonded[39] to pads, usually found around the edge of the die. Thermosonic bonding was first introduced by A. Coucoulas which provided a reliable means of forming these vital electrical connections to the outside world. After packaging, the devices go through final testing on the same or similar ATE used during wafer probing. Industrial CT scanning can also be used. Test cost can account for over 25% of the cost of fabrication on lower-cost products, but can be negligible on low-yielding, larger, or higher-cost devices.

As of 2016, a fabrication facility (commonly known as a semiconductor fab) can cost over US$8 billion to construct.[40] The cost of a fabrication facility rises over time because of increased complexity of new products. This is known as Rock's law. Today, the most advanced processes employ the following techniques:


A Soviet MSI nMOS chip made in 1977, part of a four-chip calculator set designed in 1970[42]
A Soviet MSI nMOS chip made in 1977, part of a four-chip calculator set designed in 1970[42]

The earliest integrated circuits were packaged in ceramic flat packs, which continued to be used by the military for their reliability and small size for many years. Commercial circuit packaging quickly moved to the dual in-line package (DIP), first in ceramic and later in plastic. In the 1980s pin counts of VLSI circuits exceeded the practical limit for DIP packaging, leading to pin grid array (PGA) and leadless chip carrier (LCC) packages. Surface mount packaging appeared in the early 1980s and became popular in the late 1980s, using finer lead pitch with leads formed as either gull-wing or J-lead, as exemplified by the small-outline integrated circuit (SOIC) package – a carrier which occupies an area about 30–50% less than an equivalent DIP and is typically 70% thinner. This package has "gull wing" leads protruding from the two long sides and a lead spacing of 0.050 inches.

In the late 1990s, plastic quad flat pack (PQFP) and thin small-outline package (TSOP) packages became the most common for high pin count devices, though PGA packages are still used for high-end microprocessors.

Ball grid array (BGA) packages have existed since the 1970s. Flip-chip Ball Grid Array packages, which allow for much higher pin count than other package types, were developed in the 1990s. In an FCBGA package the die is mounted upside-down (flipped) and connects to the package balls via a package substrate that is similar to a printed-circuit board rather than by wires. FCBGA packages allow an array of input-output signals (called Area-I/O) to be distributed over the entire die rather than being confined to the die periphery. BGA devices have the advantage of not needing a dedicated socket, but are much harder to replace in case of device failure.

Intel transitioned away from PGA to land grid array (LGA) and BGA beginning in 2004, with the last PGA socket released in 2014 for mobile platforms. As of 2018, AMD uses PGA packages on mainstream desktop processors,[43] BGA packages on mobile processors,[44] and high-end desktop and server microprocessors use LGA packages.[45]

Electrical signals leaving the die must pass through the material electrically connecting the die to the package, through the conductive traces (paths) in the package, through the leads connecting the package to the conductive traces on the printed circuit board. The materials and structures used in the path these electrical signals must travel have very different electrical properties, compared to those that travel to different parts of the same die. As a result, they require special design techniques to ensure the signals are not corrupted, and much more electric power than signals confined to the die itself.

When multiple dies are put in one package, the result is a system in package, abbreviated SiP. A multi-chip module (MCM), is created by combining multiple dies on a small substrate often made of ceramic. The distinction between a large MCM and a small printed circuit board is sometimes fuzzy.

Packaged integrated circuits are usually large enough to include identifying information. Four common sections are the manufacturer's name or logo, the part number, a part production batch number and serial number, and a four-digit date-code to identify when the chip was manufactured. Extremely small surface-mount technology parts often bear only a number used in a manufacturer's lookup table to find the integrated circuit's characteristics.

The manufacturing date is commonly represented as a two-digit year followed by a two-digit week code, such that a part bearing the code 8341 was manufactured in week 41 of 1983, or approximately in October 1983.

Intellectual property

The possibility of copying by photographing each layer of an integrated circuit and preparing photomasks for its production on the basis of the photographs obtained is a reason for the introduction of legislation for the protection of layout-designs. The Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984 established intellectual property protection for photomasks used to produce integrated circuits.[46]

A diplomatic conference was held at Washington, D.C., in 1989, which adopted a Treaty on Intellectual Property in Respect of Integrated Circuits (IPIC Treaty).

The Treaty on Intellectual Property in respect of Integrated Circuits, also called Washington Treaty or IPIC Treaty (signed at Washington on 26 May 1989) is currently not in force, but was partially integrated into the TRIPS agreement.[47]

National laws protecting IC layout designs have been adopted in a number of countries, including Japan,[48] the EC,[49] the UK, Australia, and Korea.[50]

Other developments

Future developments seem to follow the multi-core multi-microprocessor paradigm, already used by Intel and AMD multi-core processors. Rapport Inc. and IBM started shipping the KC256 in 2006, a 256-core microprocessor. Intel, as recently as February–August 2011, unveiled a prototype, "not for commercial sale" chip that bears 80 cores. Each core is capable of handling its own task independently of the others. This is in response to heat-versus-speed limit, that is about to be reached[when?] using existing transistor technology (see: thermal design power). This design provides a new challenge to chip programming. Parallel programming languages such as the open-source X10 programming language are designed to assist with this task.[51]


In the early days of simple integrated circuits, the technology's large scale limited each chip to only a few transistors, and the low degree of integration meant the design process was relatively simple. Manufacturing yields were also quite low by today's standards. As the technology progressed, millions, then billions[52] of transistors could be placed on one chip, and good designs required thorough planning, giving rise to the field of electronic design automation, or EDA.

Name Signification Year Transistors number[53] Logic gates number[54]
SSI small-scale integration 1964 1 to 10 1 to 12
MSI medium-scale integration 1968 10 to 500 13 to 99
LSI large-scale integration 1971 500 to 20 000 100 to 9999
VLSI very large-scale integration 1980 20 000 to 1 000 000 10 000 to 99 999
ULSI ultra-large-scale integration 1984 1 000 000 and more 100 000 and more


The first integrated circuits contained only a few transistors. Early digital circuits containing tens of transistors provided a few logic gates, and early linear ICs such as the Plessey SL201 or the Philips TAA320 had as few as two transistors. The number of transistors in an integrated circuit has increased dramatically since then. The term "large scale integration" (LSI) was first used by IBM scientist Rolf Landauer when describing the theoretical concept;[55] that term gave rise to the terms "small-scale integration" (SSI), "medium-scale integration" (MSI), "very-large-scale integration" (VLSI), and "ultra-large-scale integration" (ULSI). The early integrated circuits were SSI.

SSI circuits were crucial to early aerospace projects, and aerospace projects helped inspire development of the technology. Both the Minuteman missile and Apollo program needed lightweight digital computers for their inertial guidance systems. Although the Apollo guidance computer led and motivated integrated-circuit technology,[56] it was the Minuteman missile that forced it into mass-production. The Minuteman missile program and various other United States Navy programs accounted for the total $4 million integrated circuit market in 1962, and by 1968, U.S. Government spending on space and defense still accounted for 37% of the $312 million total production.

The demand by the U.S. Government supported the nascent integrated circuit market until costs fell enough to allow IC firms to penetrate the industrial market and eventually the consumer market. The average price per integrated circuit dropped from $50.00 in 1962 to $2.33 in 1968.[57] Integrated circuits began to appear in consumer products by the turn of the 1970s decade. A typical application was FM inter-carrier sound processing in television receivers.

The first MOS chips were small-scale integration chips for NASA satellites.[58]

The next step in the development of integrated circuits, taken in the late 1960s, introduced devices which contained hundreds of transistors on each chip, called "medium-scale integration" (MSI).

In 1964, Frank Wanlass demonstrated a single-chip 16-bit shift register he designed, with a then-incredible 120 transistors on a single chip.[58][59]

MSI devices were attractive economically because while they cost a little more to produce than SSI devices, they allowed more complex systems to be produced using smaller circuit boards, less assembly work because of fewer separate components, and a number of other advantages.

Further development, driven by the same economic factors, led to "large-scale integration" (LSI) in the mid-1970s, with tens of thousands of transistors per chip.

The masks used to process and manufacture SSI, MSI and early LSI and VLSI devices (such as the microprocessors of the early 1970s) were mostly created by hand, often using Rubylith-tape or similar.[60] For large or complex ICs (such as memories or processors), this was often done by specially hired professionals in charge of circuit layout, placed under the supervision of a team of engineers, who would also, along with the circuit designers, inspect and verify the correctness and completeness of each mask.

Integrated circuits such as 1K-bit RAMs, calculator chips, and the first microprocessors, that began to be manufactured in moderate quantities in the early 1970s, had under 4,000 transistors. True LSI circuits, approaching 10,000 transistors, began to be produced around 1974, for computer main memories and second-generation microprocessors.

Some SSI and MSI chips, like discrete transistors, are still mass-produced, both to maintain old equipment and build new devices that require only a few gates. The 7400 series of TTL chips, for example, has become a de facto standard and remains in production.


Upper interconnect layers on an Intel 80486DX2 microprocessor die
Upper interconnect layers on an Intel 80486DX2 microprocessor die

The final step in the development process, starting in the 1980s and continuing through the present, was "very-large-scale integration" (VLSI). The development started with hundreds of thousands of transistors in the early 1980s, As of 2016, transistor counts continue to grow beyond ten billion transistors per chip.

Multiple developments were required to achieve this increased density. Manufacturers moved to smaller design rules and cleaner fabrication facilities so that they could make chips with more transistors and maintain adequate yield. The path of process improvements was summarized by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), which has since been succeeded by the International Roadmap for Devices and Systems (IRDS). Electronic design tools improved enough to make it practical to finish these designs in a reasonable time. The more energy-efficient CMOS replaced NMOS and PMOS, avoiding a prohibitive increase in power consumption. Modern VLSI devices contain so many transistors, layers, interconnections, and other features that it is no longer feasible to check the masks or do the original design by hand. Instead, engineers use EDA tools to perform most functional verification work.[61]

In 1986 the first one-megabit random-access memory (RAM) chips were introduced, containing more than one million transistors. Microprocessor chips passed the million-transistor mark in 1989 and the billion-transistor mark in 2005.[62] The trend continues largely unabated, with chips introduced in 2007 containing tens of billions of memory transistors.[63]

ULSI, WSI, SoC and 3D-IC

To reflect further growth of the complexity, the term ULSI that stands for "ultra-large-scale integration" was proposed for chips of more than 1 million transistors.[64]

Wafer-scale integration (WSI) is a means of building very large integrated circuits that uses an entire silicon wafer to produce a single "super-chip". Through a combination of large size and reduced packaging, WSI could lead to dramatically reduced costs for some systems, notably massively parallel supercomputers. The name is taken from the term Very-Large-Scale Integration, the current state of the art when WSI was being developed.[65]

A system-on-a-chip (SoC or SOC) is an integrated circuit in which all the components needed for a computer or other system are included on a single chip. The design of such a device can be complex and costly, and building disparate components on a single piece of silicon may compromise the efficiency of some elements.[needs update?] However, these drawbacks are offset by lower manufacturing and assembly costs and by a greatly reduced power budget: because signals among the components are kept on-die, much less power is required (see Packaging).[66] Further, signal sources and destinations are physically closer on die, reducing the length of wiring and therefore latency, transmission power costs and waste heat from communication between modules on the same chip. This has led to an exploration of so-called Network-on-Chip (NoC) devices, which apply system-on-chip design methodologies to digital communication networks as opposed to traditional bus architectures.

A three-dimensional integrated circuit (3D-IC) has two or more layers of active electronic components that are integrated both vertically and horizontally into a single circuit. Communication between layers uses on-die signaling, so power consumption is much lower than in equivalent separate circuits. Judicious use of short vertical wires can substantially reduce overall wire length for faster operation.[67]

Silicon labelling and graffiti

To allow identification during production most silicon chips will have a serial number in one corner. It is also common to add the manufacturer's logo. Ever since ICs were created, some chip designers have used the silicon surface area for surreptitious, non-functional images or words. These are sometimes referred to as chip art, silicon art, silicon graffiti or silicon doodling.

ICs and IC families

See also


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Further reading

External links



  • US3,138,743 – Miniaturized electronic circuit – J.S. Kilby
  • US3,138,747 – Integrated semiconductor circuit device – R.F. Stewart
  • US3,261,081 – Method of making miniaturized electronic circuits – J.S. Kilby
  • US3,434,015 – Capacitor for miniaturized electronic circuits or the like – J. . Kilby

Integrated circuit die manufacturing

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