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A semiconductor is a computer chip that serves as the brain of anything that’s computerized or uses radio waves. It handles complex thinking such as arithmetic and data storage that is integral to cell phones, tablets, kitchen gadgets, laptops, video game consoles and automobiles.

In vehicles, dozens of individual semiconductor chips are used to control everything from engine temperature to alert drivers of the need for an oil change. The types of chips produced by semiconductor companies can be categorized in two ways(As per the integrated circuits or functionality of the chip).

Usually, chips are categorized in terms of their functionality. However, they are sometimes divided into types according to the integrated circuits (ICs) used.

When looked at according to functionality, the four main categories of semiconductors are memory chips, microprocessors, standard chips and complex systems-on-a-chip (SoCs). When organized by types of integrated circuitry, the three types of chips are digital, analogue and mixed.

Semiconductors are materials that have electrical conductivity between conductors (generally metals) and nonconductors or insulators (such as most ceramics). Most chips are groups of numerous transistors, diodes, resistors and capacitors which are a part of an integrated circuit, and are connected to each other seamlessly.

These components respectively play different roles in processing and storing electric signals that run the software, manipulate data and control the functions of electronic devices. The arrangement of those circuits gives them their specific purpose.

Nvidia GPU used for converting computer code into realistic video game graphics

The three biggest chip companies in the world in 2020 were Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co  Samsung and Intel. Chip companies try to pack more transistors into chips, enhancing performance and making devices more power-efficient.

Intel’s was the leader in manufacturing chips from the ’80s to 2000 since the first microprocessor—the 4004—was released in 1971 and contained only 2,300 transistors with a node size of 10 microns or 10 millionths of a meter. Intel’s undisputed leadership of the previous decades ended between 2015 and 2020 when rivals Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Samsung Electronics Co. started building chips with better transistors: ones with dimensions down to 5 nanometers.

Chips consist of as many as 100 layers of materials. These are deposited, then partially removed, to form complex three-dimensional structures that connect all the tiny transistors. Some of these layers are just one atom thin. One of the key components is silicon—or purified sand—and the magic happens in how it is processed and manipulated. Before you put silicon into chipmaking machines, you need a cleanroom.

Individual transistors are many times smaller than a virus. Just one speck of dust can cause havoc and millions of dollars of wasted effort. To mitigate this risk, chipmakers house their machines in rooms that essentially have no dust. To maintain that environment, the air is constantly filtered and very few people are allowed in.

Setting up semiconductor manufacturing plants otherwise known as foundries is unbelievably complex and specialized with limited companies operating in only a few geographical regions. A semiconductor fabrication plant is where integrated circuits (ICs), also known as microchips, are manufactured.

They are either operated by Integrated Device Manufacturers (IDMs) who design and manufacture ICs in-house and may also manufacture designs from design-only (known as fabless firms which outsource the manufacturing of these chips), or by Pure Play foundries, that manufacture designs from fabless companies and do not design their own ICs. Some Pure Play foundries like Samsung, design and manufacture ICs for customers, while also designing, manufacturing and selling their own ICs.

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