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Electronics Basics: What Are IC, Chip, Semiconductor, and Wafer?

ic vs chip
PCBONLINE Team Fri, May 28, 2021

ICs, wafers, and semiconductors are in short in the market, which leads to the manufacturing price increases of almost all high-end electronic products. As an advanced printed circuit board manufacturer, when we source ICs for PCB assembly, we also notice that some ICs are rare in the market. This is due to the reduction of wafer supplies. So, how do you distinguish IC, chip, semiconductor, and wafer? In this post, I will explain what they are so that you can understand their differences.

What is Semiconductor

semiconductor: silicon

First, let's start with semiconductors. Semiconductors are materials whose electrical conductivity value is higher than insulators (such as stone) and lower than conductors (such as metal), including silicon and germanium. Due to the larger gaps that can insert other materials, silicon is used to fabricate transistors, which can amplify the current signal.

What is IC

An IC (integrated circuit) is the assembly of hundreds of millions of transistors on a minor chip in the size of about 0.5mm × 0.5mm. According to the different functions, we classify ICs into four types:

IC assembly

  • 1. Storage IC - it is used to store materials and is usually used for computers, e-dictionary, etc. DRAM, SRAM, and NAND Flash belong to storage ICs.
  • 2. Logic IC - it is used to deal with the digital signals (0 and 1). Logic ICs are used for CPU, MPU, and GPU.
  • 3. Micro IC - it is mainly used to deal with digital and textual data. Micro ICs are used for communications between the CPU peripherals and other components.
  • 4. Analog IC - it is used to deal with analog signals. Analog ICs are used for power supplies and digital-analog converters because of their resistance to high voltages and currents.

What is Chip

Chip is another name for the IC, or you can say a chip is the carrier of the IC.

What is Wafer

A wafer is the base of an IC. Unlike the above three, wafers are a little bit complex. Wafers are made of silicon. When silicon is purified and melted into the liquid, manufacturers pull it into a crystal column. On the silicon crystal column, there are the crystal lattices in a specific arrangement that the manufacturer designs. Then manufacturers cut the crystal column into thin slices using a diamond knife. After polishing, these slices become wafers.

How Are ICs Manufactured

Now, you can understand what semiconductors, ICs, chips, and wafers are. Here is how ICs are made:

First, the diagram of the IC is engraved on the quartz wafer using electron beams, and we call the engraved quartz wafer a “photomask”. Then a wafer is coated with a layer of photoresist. Then the circuit pattern on the quartz wafer is printed on the wafer through ultraviolet light irradiation and the convex lens. This is the photolithography process.

After the photolithography process, engineers add irons to the wafer to control the conductivity and make transistors and diodes on it. Then they pour copper into the grooves for wiring. Finally are the IC packaging and tests.

PCBONLINE - Advanced PCB Manufacturer and Assembly Service Provider

ICs need to be mounted on the PCB to function. PCBONLINE is a leading advanced PCB manufacturer for senior engineers and electronic solutions companies. We have three manufacturing bases, which are ISO9001:2015 certified. PCBs of 1 to 24 layers can be ordered from us. We are best in aluminum PCB, ceramic PCB, rigid-flex PCB, HDI PCB, and high-frequency PCB, and we serve for aerospace, communications, national defense, and medical industries.

Even though a customer orders only one piece of the circuit board, we manufacture it in the same process of bulk orders for its high quality and provide free design for excellence and one-to-one engineering support. For bulk orders, we provide free complete PCBA samples and functional tests.


So we have explained what semiconductors, ICs, chips, and wafers are, and introduced how ICs are made. If you are looking for ICs for PCB assembly, don’t miss PCBONLINE, which provides one-stop solutions for your project.


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