During the 1950s, the tech world found a reliable partner in silicon, and since then – and it’s been around 70 years – it has continued to be used. Let’s say that thanks to silicon, instead of having computers the size of a room, we have the PCs we know today, some that even fit in the palm of the hand. This material was the reason why we abandoned the old circuit design, miniaturize it, make it faster and much more affordable.
Why is silicon used to make processors?
The development of integrated circuits has improved their situation by placing the various electronic circuits of a computer in a single piece of semiconductor metal called a “chip”. Thus, integrated circuits left behind the old and fragile vacuum tubes and, by reducing their size so much, allowed their series production.
In the periodic table of the elements, silicon belongs to the group of carbon, germanium, tin, lead and phlerovium. Identified as “yes”, it is the eighth most abundant element in the known universe, and even if we are only talking about planet Earth, 28.2% of the earth’s crust contains it. So, the conclusion is that silicon is one of the most common materials and therefore one of the simpler and cheaper raw materials
The Benefits of Using Silicon in Chip Making
Silicon is a metalloid, so it has certain metallic characteristics but it is not a real metal as such. And here we find its relevance for the IT industry: it’s a good semiconductor, so it allows electricity to pass, but unlike metals, the flow can be easily controlled. In other words, a metal conducts electrons by nature and cannot (or is difficult to) deactivate this property, whereas an insulating material such as plastic or wood does not allow electricity to pass through them. For its part, a semiconductor like silicon allows electricity to pass while playing the role of insulator.
So far, we already have three advantages: it is abundant, it is cheap and it also acts as a semiconductor in a natural way, so it does not require great techniques to make it work like human beings do. need (it is very easy to purify). It also works well over a wide range of temperatures and can be chemically modified to change its electrical properties. This way, it is able to handle as much electricity as needed.
This makes it possible, for example, to switch from “off” mode to “on” mode and vice versa or to allow electricity to pass through certain transistors in a selective manner without burning the circuits and, moreover, at room temperature. . In addition, only this material can be used to design many different types of components within a single device.
The tiny transistors that make up a PC processor need isolated areas and the flow of electricity can be directed with precision, and all of this is provided by silicon with minimal purification processing, and it is also a material that performs well. at temperature. atmosphere, which is abundant and which is inexpensive. These are the reasons why today, 70 years after it began to be used in industry, it continues to be used and will continue to be used for a long, long time.
What hardware will the processors of the future be?
Silicon already has an important place in the history of technological progress, but development does not stop and everything has its limits. High performance processors are designed in which electrons move even faster than in silicon. On the other hand, transistors are getting smaller each time in order to make the chips more powerful and efficient, and silicon will continue to be of use as far as its physical and chemical properties allow, but as we have already seen. said, everything has a limit.
To put this in context, now that companies are using nanchips, silicon cannot meet these needs for much longer, and research will be needed with other materials, potentially alloys of silicon and other metals. The path of vacuum tube circuit design in the era of modern transistors has been built with silicon, but the future is clearly beyond its reach and other materials will be needed.