From Sand to Circuits - Silicon Chips

The surprising process behind Intel® technology

Design

The way a chip works is the result of how a chip’s transistors and gates are designed and the ultimate use of the chip. Design specifications that include chip size, number of transistors, testing, and production factors are used to create schematics—symbolic representations of the transistors and interconnections that control the flow of electricity though a chip.

Designers then make stencil-like patterns, called masks, of each layer. Designers use computer-aided design (CAD) workstations to perform comprehensive simulations and tests of the chip functions. To design, test, and fine-tune a chip and make it ready for fabrication takes hundreds of people.

Fabrication and Test

The "recipe" for making a chip varies depending on the chip’s proposed use. Making chips is a complex process requiring hundreds of precisely controlled steps that result in patterned layers of various materials built one on top of another.

A photolithographic "printing" process is used to form a chip’s multilayered transistors and interconnects (electrical circuits) on a wafer. Hundreds of identical processors are created in batches on a single silicon wafer.

Once all the layers are completed, a computer performs a process called wafer sort test. The testing ensures that the chips perform to design specifications.

High-Performance Packaging

After fabrication, it's time for packaging. The wafer is cut into individual pieces called die. The die is packaged between a substrate and a heat spreader to form a completed processor. The package protects the die and delivers critical power and electrical connections when placed directly into a computer circuit board or mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet.

Intel makes chips that have many different applications and use a variety of packaging technologies. Intel packages undergo final testing for functionality, performance, and power. Chips are electrically coded, visually inspected, and packaged in protective shipping material for shipment to Intel customers and retail.