Very Large Scale Integration

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Very large-scale integration (VLSI) is the process of creating an integrated circuit (IC) by combining millions of MOS transistors onto a single chip. VLSI began in the 1970s when MOS integrated circuit chips were widely adopted, enabling complex semiconductor and telecommunication technologies to be developed. The microprocessor and memory chips are VLSI devices. Before the introduction of VLSI technology, most ICs had a limited set of functions they could perform. An electronic circuit might consist of a CPU, ROM, RAM and other glue logic. VLSI lets IC designers add all of these into one chip.

Integrated circuit electronic circuit manufactured by lithography; set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece (or "chip") of semiconductor material, normally silicon

An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny MOS transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, faster, and less expensive than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability, and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized IC's in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs.

A semiconductor material has an electrical conductivity value falling between that of a conductor, such as metallic copper, and an insulator, such as glass. Its resistance falls as its temperature rises; metals are the opposite. Its conducting properties may be altered in useful ways by introducing impurities ("doping") into the crystal structure. Where two differently-doped regions exist in the same crystal, a semiconductor junction is created. The behavior of charge carriers which include electrons, ions and electron holes at these junctions is the basis of diodes, transistors and all modern electronics. Some examples of semiconductors are silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, and elements near the so-called "metalloid staircase" on the periodic table. After silicon, gallium arsenide is the second most common semiconductor and is used in laser diodes, solar cells, microwave-frequency integrated circuits and others. Silicon is a critical element for fabricating most electronic circuits.

Telecommunication Transmission of information between locations using electromagnetics

Telecommunication is the transmission of signs, signals, messages, words, writings, images and sounds or information of any nature by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic systems. Telecommunication occurs when the exchange of information between communication participants includes the use of technology. It is transmitted through a transmission media, such as over physical media, for example, over electrical cable, or via electromagnetic radiation through space such as radio or light. Such transmission paths are often divided into communication channels which afford the advantages of multiplexing. Since the Latin term communicatio is considered the social process of information exchange, the term telecommunications is often used in its plural form because it involves many different technologies.


A VLSI integrated-circuit die Diopsis.jpg
A VLSI integrated-circuit die



The history of the transistor dates to the 1920s when several inventors attempted devices that were intended to control current in solid-state diodes and convert them into triodes. Success came after World War II, when the use of silicon and germanium crystals as radar detectors led to improvements in fabrication and theory. Scientists who had worked on radar returned to solid-state device development. With the invention of the first transistor at Bell Labs in 1947, the field of electronics shifted from vacuum tubes to solid-state devices.

A transistor is a semiconductor device with at least three terminals for connection to an electric circuit. The vacuum-tube triode, also called a (thermionic) valve, was the transistor's precursor, introduced in 1907. The principle of a field-effect transistor was proposed by Julius Edgar Lilienfeld in 1925.

Transistor Basic electronics component

A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power. It is composed of semiconductor material usually with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals controls the current through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output) power can be higher than the controlling (input) power, a transistor can amplify a signal. Today, some transistors are packaged individually, but many more are found embedded in integrated circuits.

Bell Labs Research and scientific development company

Nokia Bell Labs is an industrial research and scientific development company owned by Finnish company Nokia. With headquarters located in Murray Hill, New Jersey, the company operates several laboratories in the United States and around the world. Bell Labs has its origins in the complex past of the Bell System.

With the small transistor at their hands, electrical engineers of the 1950s saw the possibilities of constructing far more advanced circuits. However, as the complexity of circuits grew, problems arose. [1] One problem was the size of the circuit. A complex circuit like a computer was dependent on speed. If the components were large, the wires interconnecting them must be long. The electric signals took time to go through the circuit, thus slowing the computer. [1]

The invention of the integrated circuit by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce solved this problem by making all the components and the chip out of the same block (monolith) of semiconductor material. The circuits could be made smaller, and the manufacturing process could be automated. This led to the idea of integrating all components on a single-crystal silicon wafer, which led to small-scale integration (SSI) in the early 1960s, and then medium-scale integration (MSI) in the late 1960s.

The integrated circuit (IC) chip was invented during 1958–1959. The idea of integrating electronic circuits into a single device was born when the German physicist and engineer Werner Jacobi developed and patented the first known integrated transistor amplifier in 1949 and the British radio engineer Geoffrey Dummer proposed to integrate a variety of standard electronic components in a monolithic semiconductor crystal in 1952. A year later, Harwick Johnson filed a patent for a prototype IC. Between 1953 and 1957, Sidney Darlington and Yasuro Tarui proposed similar chip designs where several transistors could share a common active area, but there was no electrical isolation to separate them from each other.

Jack Kilby American electrical engineer

Jack St. Clair Kilby was an American electrical engineer who took part in the realization of the first integrated circuit while working at Texas Instruments (TI) in 1958. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on December 10, 2000. To congratulate him, American President Bill Clinton wrote, "You can take pride in the knowledge that your work will help to improve lives for generations to come."

Robert Noyce American businessman and engineer

Robert Norton Noyce, nicknamed "the Mayor of Silicon Valley," was an American physicist who co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 and Intel Corporation in 1968. He is also credited with the realization of the first monolithic integrated circuit or microchip, which fueled the personal computer revolution and gave Silicon Valley its name.


Very large-scale integration was made possible with the wide adoption of the MOS transistor, originally invented by Mohamed M. Atalla and Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs in 1959. [2] Atalla first proposed the concept of the MOS integrated circuit chip in 1960, followed by Kahng in 1961, both noting that the MOS transistor's ease of fabrication made it useful for integrated circuits. [3] [4] General Microelectronics introduced the first commercial MOS integrated circuit in 1964. [5] In the early 1970s, MOS integrated circuit technology allowed the integration of more than 10,000 transistors in a single chip. [6] This paved the way for VLSI in the 1970s and 1980s, with tens of thousands of MOS transistors on a single chip (later hundreds of thousands, then millions, and now billions).

Mohamed M. Atalla mechanical engineer

Mohamed Mohamed Atalla was an Egyptian-American engineer, physical chemist, cryptographer, inventor and entrepreneur. His pioneering work in semiconductor technology laid the foundations for modern electronics. Most importantly, his invention of the MOSFET in 1959, along with his earlier surface passivation and thermal oxidation processes, revolutionized the electronics industry. He is also known as the founder of the data security company Atalla Corporation, founded in 1972, which introduced the first hardware security module and was a pioneer in online security. He received the Stuart Ballantine Medal and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his important contributions to semiconductor technology as well as data security.

Dawon Kahng South Korean engineer

Dawon Kahng was a Korean-American electrical engineer and inventor, known for his work in solid-state electronics. He is best known for inventing the MOSFET, also known as the MOS transistor, with Mohamed Atalla in 1959. Atalla and Kahng developed both the PMOS and NMOS processes for MOSFET semiconductor device fabrication. The MOSFET is the most widely used type of transistor, and the basic element in most modern electronic equipment.

Semiconductor device fabrication manufacturing process used to create integrated circuits

Semiconductor device fabrication is the process used to manufacture semiconductor devices, typically the metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) devices used in the integrated circuit (IC) chips that are present in everyday electrical and electronic devices. It is a multiple-step sequence of photolithographic and chemical processing steps during which electronic circuits are gradually created on a wafer made of pure semiconducting material. Silicon is almost always used, but various compound semiconductors are used for specialized applications.

The first semiconductor chips held two transistors each. Subsequent advances added more transistors, and as a consequence, more individual functions or systems were integrated over time. The first integrated circuits held only a few devices, perhaps as many as ten diodes, transistors, resistors and capacitors, making it possible to fabricate one or more logic gates on a single device. Now known retrospectively as small-scale integration (SSI), improvements in technique led to devices with hundreds of logic gates, known as medium-scale integration (MSI). Further improvements led to large-scale integration (LSI), i.e. systems with at least a thousand logic gates. Current technology has moved far past this mark and today's microprocessors have many millions of gates and billions of individual transistors.

Diode abstract electronic component with two terminals that allows current to flow in one direction

A diode is a two-terminal electronic component that conducts current primarily in one direction ; it has low resistance in one direction, and high resistance in the other. A diode vacuum tube or thermionic diode is a vacuum tube with two electrodes, a heated cathode and a plate, in which electrons can flow in only one direction, from cathode to plate. A semiconductor diode, the most commonly used type today, is a crystalline piece of semiconductor material with a p–n junction connected to two electrical terminals. Semiconductor diodes were the first semiconductor electronic devices. The discovery of asymmetric electrical conduction across the contact between a crystalline mineral and a metal was made by German physicist Ferdinand Braun in 1874. Today, most diodes are made of silicon, but other materials such as gallium arsenide and germanium are used.

Resistor Passive electrical component providing electrical resistance

A resistor is a passive two-terminal electrical component that implements electrical resistance as a circuit element. In electronic circuits, resistors are used to reduce current flow, adjust signal levels, to divide voltages, bias active elements, and terminate transmission lines, among other uses. High-power resistors that can dissipate many watts of electrical power as heat, may be used as part of motor controls, in power distribution systems, or as test loads for generators. Fixed resistors have resistances that only change slightly with temperature, time or operating voltage. Variable resistors can be used to adjust circuit elements, or as sensing devices for heat, light, humidity, force, or chemical activity.

Capacitor Passive two-terminal electronic component that stores electrical energy in an electric field

A capacitor is a device that stores electrical energy in an electric field. It is a passive electronic component with two terminals.

At one time, there was an effort to name and calibrate various levels of large-scale integration above VLSI. Terms like ultra-large-scale integration (ULSI) were used. But the huge number of gates and transistors available on common devices has rendered such fine distinctions moot. Terms suggesting greater than VLSI levels of integration are no longer in widespread use.

In 2008, billion-transistor processors became commercially available. This became more commonplace as semiconductor fabrication advanced from the then-current generation of 65 nm processes. Current designs, unlike the earliest devices, use extensive design automation and automated logic synthesis to lay out the transistors, enabling higher levels of complexity in the resulting logic functionality. Certain high-performance logic blocks like the SRAM (static random-access memory) cell, are still designed by hand to ensure the highest efficiency.

Structured design

Structured VLSI design is a modular methodology originated by Carver Mead and Lynn Conway for saving microchip area by minimizing the interconnect fabrics area. This is obtained by repetitive arrangement of rectangular macro blocks which can be interconnected using wiring by abutment. An example is partitioning the layout of an adder into a row of equal bit slices cells. In complex designs this structuring may be achieved by hierarchical nesting. [7]

Structured VLSI design had been popular in the early 1980s, but lost its popularity later because of the advent of placement and routing tools wasting a lot of area by routing, which is tolerated because of the progress of Moore's Law. When introducing the hardware description language KARL in the mid' 1970s, Reiner Hartenstein coined the term "structured VLSI design" (originally as "structured LSI design"), echoing Edsger Dijkstra's structured programming approach by procedure nesting to avoid chaotic spaghetti-structured program


As microprocessors become more complex due to technology scaling, microprocessor designers have encountered several challenges which force them to think beyond the design plane, and look ahead to post-silicon:

See also

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Processor design is the design engineering task of creating a processor, a key component of computer hardware. It is a subfield of computer engineering and electronics engineering (fabrication). The design process involves choosing an instruction set and a certain execution paradigm and results in a microarchitecture, which might be described in e.g. VHDL or Verilog. For microprocessor design, this description is then manufactured employing some of the various semiconductor device fabrication processes, resulting in a die which is bonded onto a chip carrier. This chip carrier is then soldered onto, or inserted into a socket on, a printed circuit board (PCB).

MOSFET Transistor used for amplifying or switching electronic signals.

The metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET, MOS-FET, or MOS FET), also known as the metal–oxide–silicon transistor (MOS transistor, or MOS), is a type of field-effect transistor that is fabricated by the controlled oxidation of a semiconductor, typically silicon. It has a covered gate, whose voltage determines the conductivity of the device. This ability to change conductivity with the amount of applied voltage can be used for amplifying or switching electronic signals. The MOSFET was invented by Egyptian engineer Mohamed M. Atalla and Korean engineer Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs in November 1959. It is the basic building block of modern electronics, and the most widely manufactured device in history, with an estimated total of 13 sextillion (1.3 × 1022) MOSFETs manufactured between 1960 and 2018.

CMOS Technology for constructing integrated circuits

Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS), also known as complementary-symmetry metal–oxide–semiconductor (COS-MOS), is a type of MOSFET fabrication process that uses complementary and symmetrical pairs of p-type and n-type MOSFETs for logic functions. CMOS technology is used for constructing integrated circuits (ICs), including microprocessors, microcontrollers, memory chips, and other digital logic circuits. CMOS technology is also used for analog circuits such as image sensors, data converters, RF circuits, and highly integrated transceivers for many types of communication.

Intel 4004 4-bit central processing unit

The Intel 4004 is a 4-bit central processing unit (CPU) released by Intel Corporation in 1971. It was the first commercially available microprocessor, and the first in a long line of Intel CPUs. The chip design, implemented with the MOS silicon gate technology, started in April 1970, and was created by Federico Faggin who led the project from beginning to completion in 1971. Marcian Hoff formulated and led the architectural proposal in 1969, and Masatoshi Shima contributed to the architecture and later to the logic design. The first commercial sale of the fully operational 4004 occurred in March 1971 to Busicom Corp. of Japan for its 141-PF electronic calculator, for which it was originally designed and built as a custom chip.

Application-specific integrated circuit Integrated circuit customized (typically optimized) for a specific task

An application-specific integrated circuit is an integrated circuit (IC) customized for a particular use, rather than intended for general-purpose use. For example, a chip designed to run in a digital voice recorder or a high-efficiency bitcoin miner is an ASIC. Application-specific standard products (ASSPs) are intermediate between ASICs and industry standard integrated circuits like the 7400 series or the 4000 series.

Electronic design automation (EDA), also referred to as electronic computer-aided design (ECAD), is a category of software tools for designing electronic systems such as integrated circuits and printed circuit boards. The tools work together in a design flow that chip designers use to design and analyze entire semiconductor chips. Since a modern semiconductor chip can have billions of components, EDA tools are essential for their design.

Bipolar CMOS (BiCMOS) is a semiconductor technology that integrates two formerly separate semiconductor technologies, those of the bipolar junction transistor and the CMOS gate, in a single integrated circuit device.

In computer engineering, a logic family may refer to one of two related concepts. A logic family of monolithic digital integrated circuit devices is a group of electronic logic gates constructed using one of several different designs, usually with compatible logic levels and power supply characteristics within a family. Many logic families were produced as individual components, each containing one or a few related basic logical functions, which could be used as "building-blocks" to create systems or as so-called "glue" to interconnect more complex integrated circuits. A "logic family" may also refer to a set of techniques used to implement logic within VLSI integrated circuits such as central processors, memories, or other complex functions. Some such logic families use static techniques to minimize design complexity. Other such logic families, such as domino logic, use clocked dynamic techniques to minimize size, power consumption and delay.

Planar process

The planar process is a manufacturing process used in the semiconductor industry to build individual components of a transistor, and in turn, connect those transistors together. It is the primary process by which silicon integrated circuit chips are built. The process utilizes the surface passivation and thermal oxidation methods.

Depletion-load NMOS logic form of nMOS logic family

In integrated circuits, depletion-load NMOS is a form of digital logic family that uses only a single power supply voltage, unlike earlier nMOS logic families that needed more than one different power supply voltage. Although manufacturing these integrated circuits required additional processing steps, improved switching speed and the elimination of the extra power supply made this logic family the preferred choice for many microprocessors and other logic elements.

Integrated circuit design Engineering process for electronic hardware

Integrated circuit design, or IC design, is a subset of electronics engineering, encompassing the particular logic and circuit design techniques required to design integrated circuits, or ICs. ICs consist of miniaturized electronic components built into an electrical network on a monolithic semiconductor substrate by photolithography.

Transistor count the number of transistors in a device

The transistor count is the number of transistors on an integrated circuit (IC). It typically refers to the number of MOSFETs on an IC chip, as all modern ICs use MOSFETs. It is the most common measure of IC complexity. The rate at which MOS transistor counts have increased generally follows Moore's law, which observed that the transistor count doubles approximately every two years.

The floating-gate MOSFET (FGMOS), also known as a floating-gate transistor, is a type of MOSFET where the gate is electrically isolated, creating a floating node in DC, and a number of secondary gates or inputs are deposited above the floating gate (FG) and are electrically isolated from it. These inputs are only capacitively connected to the FG. Since the FG is completely surrounded by highly resistive material, the charge contained in it remains unchanged for long periods of time. Usually Fowler-Nordheim tunneling and hot-carrier injection mechanisms are used to modify the amount of charge stored in the FG.

In electronics, a self-aligned gate is a transistor manufacturing feature whereby a refractory gate electrode region of a MOSFET is used as a mask for the doping of the source and drain regions. This technique ensures that the gate will slightly overlap the edges of the source and drain.

A three-dimensional integrated circuit is a MOS integrated circuit (IC) manufactured by stacking silicon wafers or dies and interconnecting them vertically using, for instance, through-silicon vias (TSVs) or Cu-Cu connections, so that they behave as a single device to achieve performance improvements at reduced power and smaller footprint than conventional two dimensional processes. The 3D IC is one of several 3D integration schemes that exploit the z-direction to achieve electrical performance benefits, in microelectronics and nanoelectronics.

In semiconductor manufacturing, a process corner is an example of a design-of-experiments (DoE) technique that refers to a variation of fabrication parameters used in applying an integrated circuit design to a semiconductor wafer. Process corners represent the extremes of these parameter variations within which a circuit that has been etched onto the wafer must function correctly. A circuit running on devices fabricated at these process corners may run slower or faster than specified and at lower or higher temperatures and voltages, but if the circuit does not function at all at any of these process extremes the design is considered to have inadequate design margin.

This article details the history of electronic engineering. Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary (1972) defines electronics as "The science and technology of the conduction of electricity in a vacuum, a gas, or a semiconductor, and devices based thereon".


  1. 1 2 "The History of the Integrated Circuit". Retrieved 21 Apr 2012.
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  4. Bassett, Ross Knox (2007). To the Digital Age: Research Labs, Start-up Companies, and the Rise of MOS Technology. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 22–25. ISBN   9780801886393.
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  6. Hittinger, William C. (1973). "METAL-OXIDE-SEMICONDUCTOR TECHNOLOGY". Scientific American. 229 (2): 48–59. Bibcode:1973SciAm.229b..48H. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0873-48. ISSN   0036-8733. JSTOR   24923169.
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