An integrated circuit (IC) refers to an assembly of electronic circuits that are placed onto a single flat piece of semiconductor material. Commonly comprising a vast number of MOSFETs that are placed on a small chip, integrated circuits allow for more compact and less expensive electronics that operate with higher speeds as compared to similar devices that rely on discrete components. Coupled with reliable mass production capabilities for such devices, integrated circuits serve as a common building block for countless electronic equipment types, revolutionizing the world of electronics.
Integrated circuits typically rely on a semiconductor material such as silicon, though sapphire is also a choice that may be found for certain assemblies. Despite being quite cheap in price, the design and development process of such electronics is extremely expensive. As such, integrated circuits are often produced in high volume, ensuring that the costs associated with design and development are widely spread across millions of produced units. The high cost of integrated circuit production is due to the complexity of such devices as a modern semiconductor chip will typically feature upwards of several billion components. As a result, integrated circuit chips are produced with the assistance of advanced machinery and designs are created through the use of Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools.
When discussing the most common variations of integrated circuits, such components are often classified into analog output, digital, and mixed signal types. Digital integrated circuits are regularly constructed with billions of multiplexers, logic gates, flip-flops, and other circuit types, all of which are placed on a few millimeters of space. As logic integrated circuits, digital ICs are commonly used for microprocessors, DSPs, and microcontrollers. Generally, the most beneficial aspects of the digital IC is its high speed, reduced manufacturing costs, and low power dissipation.
Analog integrated circuits, or linear integrated circuits, are semiconductor materials that have a number of small analog circuits installed on them. Common elements of the analog IC include transistor components, capacitors, resistors, and inductors, regularly having more passive elements than a standard digital IC. Additionally, analog chips typically exhibit varying voltages and currents at specific points of the circuit. Analog integrated circuits are commonly categorized as either linear integrated circuits or RF circuits, their primary applications including wideband signals, high-power systems, and transducer interfaces.
The mixed signal integrated circuit is one in which both analog and digital circuits are placed on a common semiconductor chip. The mixed signal type is one of the most widely used integrated circuits, frequently found within mobile smartphones, aerospace electronics, unmanned aerial vehicles, electrical vehicles, space electronics, and much more. Their wide implementation is due to their cost-effectiveness and capabilities, allowing them to serve as a standard building block of many modern electronic devices.
Beyond the aforementioned types, three-dimensional integrated circuits are a metal-oxide semiconductor integrated circuit type that is typically produced through the stacking of silicon wafers and the establishment of vertical integration through the use of through-silicon vias or Cu-Cu connections. Through interconnection, the three-dimensional IC can operate as a single device while exhibiting increased performance at reduced power. While such components can be more complex and costly as compared to other types, such ICs have greatly benefited various applications related to MEMS, mobile phones, CMOS image sensors, and more.
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