Integrated circuit

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, usually silicon. Large numbers of tiny MOSFETs (metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistors) integrate into a small chip. This results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, faster, and less expensive than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability, and building-block approach to integrated 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 home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs such as modern computer processors and microcontrollers.

Erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM) integrated circuits in dual in-line packages. 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
Virtual detail of an integrated circuit through four layers of planarized copper interconnect, down to the polysilicon (pink), wells (greyish), and substrate (green)

Very-large-scale integration was made practical by technological advancements in metal–oxide–silicon (MOS) 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 MOS transistors on chips of the same size – a modern chip may have many billions of MOS transistors in an area the size of a human fingernail. These advances, roughly following Moore's law, make the 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. The 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 proximity. The main disadvantage of ICs is the high cost of designing them and fabricating the required photomasks. This high initial cost means ICs are only commercially viable when high production volumes are anticipated.


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