The Invention of Computer Chips


April 30, 2021

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Computer chips, also known as silicon chips or integrated circuits, have helped people make incredible advancements in technology over such a short amount of time. Without the use of silicon wafers to make these chips, much of the technology we see all around us would be far less impactful in our daily lives – if it even existed at all. If you’re looking to buy a silicon wafer, you know who to turn to for the best ones available.  At Wafer World, we want to assist in improving and creating new technology by providing high-quality silicon wafers to those who need them. Wondering what kind of role these flat semiconductors have had in the history of computer chips? Let’s find out!  

Most Influential Ever?

Years ago, CNN did a massive poll that asked users what they thought was the most significant invention created in the last 50 years. To probably no surprise, the silicon chip was among the top voters – but it actually finished in sole possession of first place by around four percent, which is a fairly large margin of victory for a poll with 24 options to choose from. Notably, an option on the list was the World Wide Web, which was the invention that finished second in the voting. We use the internet to get countless amounts of information – all just a click away. But would that information still be a click away without computer chips?  Originally, bulky vacuum tube technology was used for electronics, making accessibility and portability difficult. So, without the invention of computer chips, the internet might not have been as useful as it is today.

Before the Chip: Vacuum Tubes

It might be hard to consider a situation of a computer not having a computer chip. That’s how a computer is able to function properly, right? Well, it’s definitely possible to have a computer run without one, but you’re going to need some space – a lot of space.   Vacuum tubes (otherwise known as thermionic valves) were used before the invention of transistors, and saying they are less powerful than what we use today is quite an understatement. They were extremely fragile, and they even needed to warm up before you could use them. You wouldn’t be able to fit these computers in your pocket, much less your home office. They weighed thousands of pounds and could take up space in multiple rooms.  

The Revolutionary Invention

Vacuum tubes might have been fine in their day, but there needed to be some major advancements if we were ever going to make smaller computers. Thankfully, the integrated circuit was first brought to life in September 1958 as an American engineer, Jack Kilby, demonstrated the first working example. It was soon first used by the United States Air Force. When Kilby filed a patent the following year, he described his invention as “a body of semiconductor material … wherein all the components of the electronic circuit are completely integrated.” Nearly at the same time, Robert Noyce, another American, was working on something very similar. In 1959, he came to the conclusion that an entire circuit could be placed on a single silicon chip.  About two years later, Noyce was awarded a patent, and he will forever be known as “the Mayor of Silicon Valley.” While his was filed an entire five months later than Kilby’s, he still received the first patent for an integrated circuit. It took years for Kilby’s to be approved, which didn’t happen until 1964.  Unfortunately for Noyce, he died before he was able to be honored with a Nobel Prize for his work on silicon chips. Kilby was recognized for his accomplishments in 2000 – 10 years after Noyce’s death. The first-ever computer chips only had one transistor on them, but today, that number has reached impressive new heights. According to Moore’s Law, transistor density doubles roughly every two years, which leaves us with computer chips that can now hold billions of transistors. What was once probably thought to be impossible is now a reality.

How They Work  

Computer chips are created using silicon and metal and follow programming called assembly language to complete three main functions. The integrated circuits will read the assembly language, translate it, and put it to action. The three main functions include:

  • Performing mathematical equations through a logic unit
  • Transport memory from one chip to another  
  • Make decisions (and create instructions from the decisions)

They also have two types of memory in the form of RAM and ROM. RAM stands for random access memory, which disappears when the user shuts off a computer. If the computer needs to store the information permanently, it will use ROM, which stands for read-only memory.

What They’re Used For

Computer chips are obviously used for traditional computers, but that’s not the only item that they’re used for. Some others include:

  • Electronic Control Units in vehicles
  • Cell phones
  • Air conditioners
  • TVs
  • RFID tags

The Future of Computer Chips  

Ever since the integrated circuit was first invented, the advancements through the decades have been astonishing. And currently, there are no noticeable signs of slowing down as more transistors continue to be added to the chips.   Eventually, there may come a time when Moore’s Law comes to an end, but in the meantime, advancements continue to be made. Who knows what the future holds for these powerful circuits?  [video width="1920" height="1080" mp4=""][/video]

Looking to Buy a Silicon Wafer?

Silicon wafers aren’t just used for computer chips. They have numerous functions, such as being used for tire pressure systems, solar cells, testing, and calibrating instruments. In whatever way they will be applied, you can rest assured that the wafers you receive will be up to your standards. Wafer World always puts our wafers through thorough tests, ensuring each one is of the absolute best quality. Everything is handled with extreme care during our entire manufacturing process because any issues that come from our products can take valuable time away from you. If you’re looking to buy a silicon wafer, you’ve come to the right place. Contact the helpful team at Wafer World today to request a quote.

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