integrated circuit

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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integrated circuit

integrated circuit (IC), electronic circuit built on a semiconductor substrate, usually one of single-crystal silicon. The circuit, often called a chip, is packaged in a hermetically sealed case or a nonhermetic plastic capsule, with leads extending from it for input, output, and power-supply connections, and for other connections that may be necessary when the device is put to use. Integrated circuits can be classified into two groups based on the type of transistors they contain. Bipolar integrated circuits contain bipolar junction transistors as their principle elements. Metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) integrated contain MOS transistors as their principle elements. Some integrated circuits contain both types of transistors. Integrated circuits are also categorized according to the number of transistors or other active circuit devices they contain. An IC is said to use small-scale integration (SSI) if it contains fewer than 10 transistors. An IC that contains from 10 to 100 transistors is said to use medium-scale integration. A large-scale integration (LSI) IC contains from 100 to 1,000 transistors, and one that uses very-large-scale integration (VLSI) contains more than 1,000 transistors. All ICs now employ VLSI, and these distinctions are only of historical importance. Some integrated circuits are analog devices; an operational amplifier is an example. Other ICs, such as the microprocessors used in computers, are digital devices. Some hybrid integrated circuits contain both analog and digital circuitry; a bilateral switch, which switches analog signals by means of a digital control signal is an example of a hybrid IC. Integrated circuit functions are virtually limitless. Improvements in IC manufacturing have led to increasingly dense and capable integrated circuits. Some microprocessors, for example, contain more than one billion transistors on their chips. The smaller, denser chips can also provide speed benefits, because in high-speed devices, the length of time it takes a signal to travel a given distance can become a factor. The major fabricating steps for integrated circuits include film formation, impurity doping, photolithography, etching, and packaging. See microelectronics.

See M. S. Malone, The Microprocessor: A Biography (1995).

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