Why is silicon still used to make processors?.
You probably already know that silicon is the material with which, at least the majority, both PC processors and almost all chips in the industry are made. Much has been said about possible more efficient substitutes for silicon, such as the “miraculous” graphene, which at the time seemed like the solution to all problems, but the reality is that silicon is, and continues to be, the material with which they are manufactured. the processors. You want to know why? In this article we tell you everything.
During the 1950s, the technological world found a reliable partner in silicon, and it has continued to be used ever since—and it’s now some 70 years. Let’s just say that thanks to silicon, instead of having computers the size of a room we have the PCs we know today, some that can even fit in the palm of your hand. This material was the reason to leave behind the old circuit design, miniaturize it, make it faster and also much more affordable.
Why is silicon used to make processors?
The development of integrated circuits improved their situation by placing the different electronic circuits of a computer on 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 mass production.
On the periodic table of elements, silicon belongs to the group carbon, germanium, tin, lead, and flerovium. Identified as “Si”, it is the eighth most abundant element in the known universe, and even if we talk only about planet Earth, 28.2% of the earth’s crust contains it. Thus, the conclusion is that silicon is one of the most common materials and therefore one of the easiest and cheapest raw materials to obtain.
The advantages of using silicon in chip manufacturing
Silicon is a metalloid, so it has some metallic characteristics, but it is not a true metal as such. And here we find its relevance for the computer industry: it is a good semiconductor, so it allows the flow of electricity but, unlike metals, the flow can be easily controlled. In other words, a metal conducts electrons by nature and this property cannot be (or is difficult to) deactivate, while an insulating material such as plastic or wood does not allow electricity to pass through them. For its part, a semiconductor such as silicon allows electricity to pass through while acting as an insulator at the same time.
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 as we human beings 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. In this way, it is able to address 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 selectively without burning the circuits and, moreover, at room temperature . Also, you can use this material alone to design many different types of components all within the same device.
The tiny transistors that make up a PC processor need isolated areas and precise directing of electricity flow, and all of that is provided by silicon with minimal purification treatment, and a material that works well at room temperature. atmosphere, which is abundant, and which is cheap. These are the reasons why today, 70 years after it began to be used in the industry, it is still used and will continue to be so for a long, long time.
What material will be the processors of the future?
Silicon already has an important place in the history of technological advancement, but development does not stop and everything has its limitations. High-performance processors are being designed in which electrons move even faster than in silicon. On the other hand, transistors are getting smaller with the goal of making chips more powerful and efficient, and silicon will continue to be useful as far as its physical and chemical properties allow, but as we said before , everything has a limit.
To put this in context, now that companies are using nanometer chips, silicon can no longer meet these needs for much longer, and research will need to be done with other materials, potentially alloys of silicon and another metal. The path from vacuum tube circuit design to the era of the modern transistor has been paved with silicon, but the future is clearly out of its purview and different materials will be needed.