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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | The Processor | Roots of the Processor: Digital Logic and the Semiconductor ]

Semiconductors and The Integrated Circuit

The transistor was originally a single, discrete device, that you could place individually into a circuit much like any other. Today, some special-purpose transistors are still used that way. What allowed for the creation of modern processors was the invention of the integrated circuit, which is a group of transistors manufactured from a single piece of material and connected together internally, without extra wiring. Integrated circuits are also called ICs or chips.

A special material is used to make these integrated circuits. While most materials either insulate from electrical flow (air, glass, wood) or conduct electricity readily (metals, water), there are some that only conduct electricity a small amount, or only under certain conditions. These are called semiconductors. The most commonly used semiconductor is of course silicon.

By careful chemical composition and arrangement, it is possible to create a very small transistor directly on a layer of silicon, using various technologies to manipulate the material into the correct form. These transistors are small, fast and reliable, and use relatively little power. The first integrated circuit was invented in 1959 by Texas Instruments. It contained just six transistors on a single semiconductor surface.

Next: Miniaturization and Large Scale Integration

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