What is a fabless semiconductor company?

A fabless semiconductor company specializes in the design and sale of hardware devices implemented on semiconductor chips. It achieves an advantage by outsourcing the fabrication of the devices to a specialized semiconductor manufacturer called a semiconductor foundry or "fab". The credit for pioneering the fabless concept is given to Bernie Vonderschmitt of Xilinx and Gordon A. Campbell of Chips and Technologies.


What is a foundry?

In microelectronics, a foundry refers to a factory where devices such as integrated circuits are manufactured.


What is System-On-Chip (SOC)?

In this approach, components traditionally manufactured as separate chips to be wired together on a printed circuit board are designed to occupy a single chip that contains memory, microprocessor(s), peripheral interfaces, Input/Output logic control, data converters, and other components, together composing the whole electronic system.


What is Rock's Law?

Rock's Law, named for Arthur Rock, says that the cost of a semiconductor chip fabrication plant doubles every four years. As of 2003, the price had already reached about 3 billion US dollars.

Rock's Law can be seen as the economic flipside to Moore's Law; the latter is a direct consequence of the ongoing growth of the capital-intensive semiconductor industry-innovative and popular products mean more profits, meaning more capital available to invest in ever higher levels of large-scale integration, which in turn leads to creation of even more innovative products.

The semiconductor industry has always been extremely capital-intensive, with very low unit manufacturing costs. Thus, the ultimate limits to growth of the industry will constrain the maximum amount of capital that can be invested in new products; at some point, Rock's Law will collide with Moore's Law.


What is Moore's Law?

The growth of complexity of integrated circuits follows a trend called "Moore's Law", first observed by Gordon Moore of Intel. Moore's Law in its modern interpretation states that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years. By the year 2000 the largest integrated circuits contained hundreds of millions of transistors.


What is Very Large-Scale Integration (VLSI)?

The final step in the development process, starting in the 1980s and continuing on, was "Very Large-Scale Integration" (VLSI), with hundreds of thousands of transistors, and beyond (well past several million in the latest stages).


What is Large-Scale Integration (LSI)?

"Large-Scale Integration" (LSI) in the mid 1970s produced tens of thousands of transistors per chip. They were attractive economically because while they cost little more to produce than SSI devices, they allowed more complex systems to be produced using smaller circuit boards, less assembly work (because of fewer separate components), and a number of other advantages.

Further development led to LSI circuits being produced in large quantities for computer main memories and pocket calculators.


What is Medium-Scale Integration (MSI)?

The next step in the development of integrated circuits, taken in the late 1960s, introduced devices which contained hundreds of transistors on each chip, called "Medium-Scale Integration" (MSI).


What is Small-Scale Integration (SSI)?

The first integrated circuits contained only a few transistors. Called "Small-Scale Integration" (SSI), they used circuits containing transistors numbering in the tens.


What is testing?

Wafer testing or wafer probing is the process of testing each wafer before packaging using very expensive automated test equipment (ATE).

The wafer is then cut into small rectangles called dice. Each good die is then connected into a package using aluminum (or gold) wires which are welded to pads, usually found around the edge of the die. After packaging, the devices go through final test on the same or similar ATE used during wafer probing. Test cost can account for over 25% of the cost of fabrication on lower cost products, but can be negligible on low yielding, larger, and/or higher cost devices.


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