Slideshow: the making of a computer chip

Ever wonder a processor makes it from sand to silicone? Intel shows us how.

  • The wafers are polished until they have flawless, mirror-smooth surfaces. Intel buys manufacturing-ready wafers from third party companies.

  • Photo resist is again applied, exposed and washed off in preparation for the next step.

  • Sand has high percentages of Silicon in the form of Silicon dioxide and is the base ingredient for semiconductor manufacturing.

  • Hundreds of microprocessors are usually built on a single wafer. This is a small part, a transistor, which acts as a switch, controlling the flow of electrical current in a computer chip.

  • Ion implantation - exposed areas of the silicon wafer are bombarded with ions, which are shot at the wafer at high speed to alter the way the exposed silicon conducts electricity.

  • The wafer is cut into pieces (dies).

  • The photo resist finish is exposed to ultra violet light, making it soluble. The exposure is done using masks that act like stencils to create the various circuit patterns on each layer of the microprocessor.

  • An individual die.

  • Applying the photo resist finish – liquid is poured onto the wafer while it spins. The liquid is a photo resist finish similar as the one known from film photography.

  • Revealed material is etched away with chemicals.

  • Packaging - the substrate, the die and the heatspreader are put together to form a completed processor.

  • The Ingot is cut into individual silicon discs called wafers.

  • Class testing

  • Electroplating - the wafers are put into a copper sulphate solution.

  • The photo resist is removed 'alien atoms' are implanted.

  • The photo resist is removed and the desired shape becomes visible.

  • The copper ions settle as a thin layer of copper.

  • The photo resist is washed off, to reveal a pattern made by the mask.

  • Wafer sort test - wafers are put through a functionality test.

  • Retail packaging.

  • Excess material is polished off.

  • Completed processor. In this case, Intel's Core i7 Processor.

  • Multiple metal layers are created to interconnect between the various transistors. The connections are determined by the architecture and design.

  • Mono-crystal Silicon Ingot. One ingot weights about 100 kilograms and has a Silicon purity of 99.9999%.

  • Binning - processors with the same capabilities are put into the same transporting trays.

  • The dies that responded with the right answer to the test pattern are put forward for the next step. Those that fail are discarded.

  • Three holes have been etched into the insulation layer (pink) above the transistor. The three holes will be filled with copper to create the connections to other transistors.

  • Melted silicon. It's purified in multiple steps to finally reach semiconductor manufacturing quality which is called Electronic Grade Silicon.

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