How Is Gold Used in Computers?


June 16, 2022

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Semiconductors are valuable. At Wafer World, that’s why we’re so careful at every step of the process to ensure that your wafers are grown and manufactured to the highest standards. Laser marking and clean rooms are just two of the many tools we utilize to ensure that value is maintained.

While most of a semiconductor’s value lies in its electronic uses, it’s also interesting to consider the value of the materials used to make it. For instance, gold is infamous for being a valuable metal, and yet it can be found in many electronic devices.

Today, we’ll discuss where you can find gold in computers, what it’s doing there, and the various efforts being made to recycle the gold.

Where Is Gold Used in Computers?

Depending on how old a computer is, gold can be found in all the following parts:

Circuit boards are the biggest users of gold: more specifically, motherboards. This is because gold can be found on their surfaces and connectors.  

Other precious metals like copper and aluminum can be found in electronics, as well. That said, these materials aren't as highly valued as gold.

Why Is Gold Used in Computers?

Gold is expensive, which begs the question: why is it used in computers? This metal has several properties that make it desirable:

  • Conductivity – Electricity moves easily through gold, which is important for ensuring the conductivity that makes a semiconductor function.
  • Low Oxidation Levels – Many materials tarnish or rust over time because they interact with oxygen. Gold interacts very little with oxygen, meaning it’s able to last longer.
  • Pliable – As we’ve discussed extensively on this blog, electronics keep getting smaller. Gold can be shaped so that it fits in wires and other small areas.

Because it’s expensive, manufacturers try to use it as little as possible. During earlier eras of computing, gold was used more because we didn’t know else how to build these machines. However, over time, suitable replacements have been found for some computer parts.

Typically, chip manufacturers evaluate the costs of materials during the design phase. They’re then able to weigh the benefits of each material versus their costs. This means that gold is only used when absolutely necessary.

Has the Amount of Gold in Computers Decreased Over Time?

Yes, the amount of gold used in chip production has significantly decreased. This is in part because many electronics have gotten smaller, necessitating less gold. That said, the biggest shift occurred in 1998. At this point, solid gold wiring stopped being used in IC packaging.

Most of the gold you’ll find in devices these days is plated, as opposed to being made from solid gold. As you might expect, this significantly decreases the amount of gold that can be extracted.

If you’re looking for devices specifically for the purpose of extracting gold, it’s worth looking at devices made in the 60s and 70s. These devices used the most gold, both because technology had not advanced and because the military wanted to ensure their devices were resistant to heat and corrosion.

semiconductors use tools like laser marking and materials like gold

How Close Are We to Running Out of Gold?

Given all the shortages the world has experienced since 2020, you may be wondering if the world’s gold supply could be another difficulty leading to semiconductor shortages. Luckily, gold mining is still expected to be profitable for decades to come.

The most cautious predictions estimate that gold mining will stop being profitable in 2050, but most people believe there will be more discoveries before then, which would make gold mining profitable for longer.

While gold is a nonrenewable resource, the situation won't be dire when we can no longer mine it out of the ground. This is because gold remains, even when it’s used for jewelry, electronics, and so on.

When gold runs out, recycling programs will likely go into overdrive, ensuring that gold currently in landfills is found so it can be used in other products.

Recycling Electronics

The world produces 50 million tons of e-waste every year, which translates to 1,000 laptops per second. A single laptop can contain anywhere from $15-$25 worth of gold. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of gold in e-waste.  

While recycling efforts are increasing in order to salvage this gold, they’re far from all-encompassing. In fact, only 12.5% of e-waste is recycled at present.

There are many initiatives currently in place to increase the electronic components that get recycled. If you’re interested, it may be worth reading more about our GaAs, InP reclaim process.

Luckily, e-waste can be recycled, even once it’s in a landfill. While it’s more efficient to recycle electronics originally, there are people who scavenge through junkyards to find recyclable materials.

Should You Try to Extract the Gold in Old Electronics?

There are several reasons why it’s typically not wise for a non-professional to extract the gold from old electronics:

  • You have to check its collector’s value – This ensures you don’t take apart a device that is worth more put together than its constituent parts.
  • Extracting gold can be dangerous – You will have to work with hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, and mercury in order to successfully refine gold.
  • Extracting gold isn’t always worth it in small quantities – Metal refiners typically need to recycle large quantities to make back their investment, and some won’t recycle for you unless you have at least two pounds.

If you have a computing device that has gold, it’s typically advisable to bring it to a professional refiner. They will give you a portion of the profits, without requiring you to invest in startup costs or endanger yourself.

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Along with silicon wafers, we offer Germanium, GaAs, Sapphire, InP, and more. If there’s a wafer you would like that you can’t find on our site, you can request a free quote on our site.

Do you have any questions about what we can do for you? Would you like to speak with one of our representatives about how the right wafers can take your business to the next level? Please don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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