Why is silicon used in computer chips?
When it comes to what type of material is used to make a chip in a computer, silicon comes to mind immediately. One wonders why silicon. Well, there are other materials available that can be used. However, they are challenging to acquire which makes them highly expensive. And if any other material other than silicon is used, computer chips will become unaffordable for the majority of people around the world.
The main reason is that Silicon is readily available, thanks to it being the second most abundant material present in the earth’s crust. Therefore, the myriad of such a material makes Silicon super cheap as it’s so accessible, making it useful universally in modern electronics. Another factor that makes engineers favor Silicon over others is the nature of Silicon.
Silicon is a semiconductor that makes it unique unlike metals which are complete conductors and pass the current uncontrollably or insulators which are non-conductors like wood which do not pass any current. So, this threshold quality or nature of silicon which allows it to pass the current in a controlled manner provides the perfect balance an engineer requires to fashion a chip. Since silicon chips can be mass-produced, it’s almost available not only in computer processors but in all sorts of electronics.
The working of a silicon chip:
Silicon is an “easy to manipulate” material that provides great control to engineers as they design the chip. A process called doping in which impurities (other elements) are added to the pure silicon to create a field of transistors known as MOSFET (metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistor) allows the passing of current in a planned way. This makes the system of turning the computer on or off possible.
Moreover, silicon works excellently in high temperatures. That’s one of the reasons why Germanium was abandoned and silicon was chosen for making computer chips. Because silicon material has a stronger bond with its electrons as compared to the weak bonds germanium has with its electrons in hot temperatures, Si becomes the number one choice. But, there are more reasons for the dominant use of Si in the chip-making business.
The silicon material when reacts with oxygen creates silicon dioxide that makes the perfect layer/coating of insulation around the chip aiding in the creation of the MOSFET Gate. This gate also aids in enhanced performance and reduced power consumption.
Materials like Gallium Nitride or Gallium Arsenide are better in performance than silicon. They provide ultra-fast speed in computer functions; however, they are also highly expensive and not readily available like silicon. So, silicon is a fairly good choice for chip engineers to use in computer processors which also makes the chip affordable for users. Not to mention, the performance of modern computers keeps on improving with the newer generation silicon chips, so it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Si chips for now are the best option in the market.