This blog is Part One of our two-part series highlighting integrated circuit types, functions, and advantages.
Arguably the most important invention of the 20th century, an integrated circuit functions as a timer, microprocessor, amplifier, oscillator, or even as computer memory. It’s essential to modern computers, and the basis for the vast majority of electronic equipment in use today. Usually made from silicon, today’s integrated circuits have hundreds of millions of capacitors, resistors and transistors, which are used to perform calculations and store data.
Integrated circuits are often referred to as chips or microchips, as they are manufactured as a small wafer that holds on to millions of minute capacitors, resistors, and transistors. Fundamentally, integrated circuits just create a miniature circuit board through which electricity passes, with components built upon this tiny silicon wafer. The integrated circuit not only made possible our modern computers but was integral in creating pocket calculators, digital watches, the rockets that landed on the Moon, and even devices with built-in satellite navigation technology.
Integrated Circuit Functions & Types
The three general types of integrated circuits are analog, digital, and mixed-signal circuits. Within each of these categories are subcategories, each with specific integrated circuit functions.
These work by handling continuous signals, and are often called linear circuits, as they can carry a charge from zero to the full voltage on a power supply. That doesn’t mean that their signals are proportional, or that they all happen along a straight line. An analog integrated circuit functions by filtering, amplifying, demodulating, and modulating. Essentially, these circuits are solid-state analog devices that have infinite possible operating states that function over a continuous range of input levels.
Types of analog integrated circuits include:
Analog sensors produce a continuous output signal or voltage, proportional generally to the quantity measured.
Operational amplifiers utilize DC amplification as linear devices, ideally used for filtering, signal conditioning, or other mathematical processes.
Radio frequency integrated circuits are widely used in wireless devices, including mobile phones.
These work with binary mathematics, the core language of computers, using “1” to indicate a transistor’s on and “0” to indicate it’s off. Modern digital circuits have ten billion or more transistors and incorporate into a single chip the ability to conduct logical operations, such as signaling true and false values. A digital integrated circuit works by combining transistors in large or small quantities, which offers a reliable and low-cost option for storing and processing information.
Examples of digital integrated circuits include:
Logic gate integrated circuits – Small transistor circuits that act as a type of amplifier, which implements various forms through gateways that normally allow two inputs and one output. It enables operations through these seven commands:
- NAND (Not AND)
- NOR (Not OR)
- XOR (Exclusive OR)
- XNOR (Exclusive NOR)
Memory chips – Integrated circuits made with millions of transistors and capacitors that either store data or process code, doing so as read-only memory (ROM) or random-access memory (RAM). Coming in various sizes and shapes, this type of integrated circuit acts as a key component for storing memory in computers and other electronic devices.
Interface integrated circuits – Manage communications for a wide variety of electronic devices and systems, increasing reliability while offering substantial savings for designers.
Power management integrated circuits – Help manage power in electronic devices, with most having several direct current converters that control voltage levels and which are used for smartphone and mobile devices to decrease the space needed, especially when playing media.
Programmable logic devices – Components programmed to perform specific actions utilizing specialized applications. This type of integrated circuit works by using logic gates – as per the seven logic gate commands above – in order to reconfigure a circuit. Unlike them, programmable logic devices don’t have fixed functions, but are made with undefined functions.
When both digital and analog circuits are used in one chip, the result is a mixed signal integrated circuit, which combines analog and digital integrated circuit functions. Data converters for the basis for mixed signal circuits, which convert data from analog to digital and vice versa. Converters that translate analog to digital vary input voltage, approximating the analog voltage through the use of binary numbers. In contrast, digital to analog converters use input data in binary numbers to generate an equivalent waveform that analog circuits can read.
Types of mixed signal integrated circuits include:
Dual-channel data acquisition integrated circuits – Collect data via analog means and translate it into a digitally readable form or do so in reverse, collecting digital data and returning it in analog form. Examples include A/D converters, D/A converters and digital potentiometers.
Timing integrated circuits – Utilize phase-locked loops to synchronize timing or generate timing references.
These represent the various types of integrated circuits and how they function, providing a general idea about the wide array of uses they have in most modern electronic devices.
Part Two: Advantages & Applications of Integrated Circuits
Follow along with our two-part series on integrated circuits. Our next blog will discuss the advantages and applications of integrated circuit functions.