Semiconductors can be a daunting concept to grasp for those new to the industry. What exactly is a semiconductor, and how do semiconductors relate to computer chips?
Semiconductors are materials that are neither terribly good conductors nor insulators. Basically, these properties are important because the flow of electricity needs to move bidirectionally in electronics, thanks to the diode.
So, What Is a Chip?
The major types of chip produced by semiconductor companies are memory chips, logic chips, standard chips, and systems-on-a-chip. Chips are a major part of what are also called components.
Memory chips are semiconductor devices used to store memory. These can be sorted into primary and secondary memory. Primary memory is the first chip to process memory for the central processing unit of a computer, and secondary memory specializes more in volume than speed. This is why digging deep through one’s PC folders may seem slow in comparison to how quickly it takes to access the command prompt from startup, for instance.
The most common type of primary memory is RAM, or “random access memory.” RAM is write-only, volatile memory; which means that RAM is used only for a computer’s core functions, like bringing up interfaces. A computer’s Operating System is typically installed in RAM, to make its basic functionality faster.
Logic chips are semiconductor devices used to process information. Put simply, logic chips can be thought of as either primary or secondary, like memory chips.
The primary logic of a computer is the CPU, or Central Processing Unit. The CPU is the powerhouse of the basic computer, running various key processes. In a secondary role, for example, is the GPU, or Graphics Processing Unit, which processes information to form an image on one’s display.
Standard chips are also known as ICs, or Integrated Circuits. All CPUs are standard chips because all functions are integrated on the chip; that is, components are integrated on a single semiconductor substrate. Stacking chips to combine multiple ICs on a single substrate is one of the latest developments in the semiconductor industry.
Systems-on-a-chip (“SoC”), as the name suggests, are total computer systems on a single substrate. The substrate will often include a CPU, primary and secondary memory, and other features.
These Chips are For Your Consumption
Each one of these chips help us in our everyday lives. To even read this article Online, you benefit from these semiconductor devices.
For advanced consumer technologies lacking in physical size to pack in computer components more traditionally—like new Apple iPhones—even the most advanced of these chips are put to use with systems-on-a-chip. SoCs are a relatively new concept in the tech sphere, but are already moving into laptops and tablets.
“The burn-in” is a common concept in semiconductor component quality testing. By successfully testing a system with artificially high demands (e.g. commands, temperature, and more), the tester can determine the system’s durability.
With a fundamental understanding of chips, we can better understand the world around us as it whirs on in computerized progress.