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Making Silicon Chips

From Sand to Circuits

  • The surprising process behind Intel® technology

The world’s most advanced manufacturing

Today silicon chips are everywhere. Intel creates industry-leading  and world-first silicon products.  These Intel chips are some of the most complex devices ever manufactured, requiring advanced manufacturing technology. Step into a modern "fab" where Intel makes its chips, and you’ll discover a range of sophisticated processes spanning close to a million square feet of space.

See the steps involved > 

Driving all forms of digital innovation

Intel chips power Ultrabook™ devices,  smartphones, tablets, high performance computing, data centers and the internet. They automate factories, embedded in automobiles and everyday devices. The most sophisticated processor, can contain hundreds of millions or billions of transistors interconnected by fine wires made of copper. Each of these transistors acts as an on/off switch, controlling the flow of electricity through the chip to send, receive, and process information . Chips today may have multiple cores.

Silicon in raw form


Silicon, the principal ingredient in beach sand, is a natural semiconductor and the most abundant element on earth except for oxygen.

wafer made from silicon


To make wafers, silicon is purified, melted and cooled to form an ingot, which is then sliced into discs called wafers. Chips are built simultaneously in a grid formation on the wafer surface in a fabrication facility or “fab.”

computer chip


A chip is a complex device that forms the brains of every computing device.
While chips look flat, they are three-dimensional structures and may include as many as 30 layers of complex circuitry.

clean room with highly reflective surfaces

Clean rooms

Chips are fabricated in batches of wafers in clean rooms that are thousands of times cleaner than hospital operating rooms.

Four people in special suits to wear in clean rooms. Nicknamed

Bunny suits

Fab technicians wear special suits, nicknamed bunny suits, designed to keep contaminants such as lint and hair off the wafers during chip manufacturing.


The way a chip works is the result of how a chip’s transistors and gates are designed and the ultimate use of the chip. Design specifications that include chip size, number of transistors, testing, and production factors are used to create schematics—symbolic representations of the transistors and interconnections that control the flow of electricity though a chip.

Designers then make stencil-like patterns called masks of each layer. Designers  use computer-aided design (CAD) workstations to perform comprehensive simulations and tests of the chip functions. To design, test, and fine-tune a chip and make it ready for fabrication takes hundreds of people.

Fabrication and Test

The "recipe" for making a chip varies depending on the chip’s proposed use. Making chips is a complex process requiring hundreds of precisely controlled steps that result in patterned layers of various materials built one on top of another.

A photolithographic "printing" process is used to form a chip’s multi-layered transistors and interconnects (electrical circuits) on a wafer. Hundreds of identical processors are created in batches on a single silicon wafer.

Once all the layers are completed a computer performs a process called wafer sort test. The testing ensures that the chips perform to design specifications

High-performance packaging

After fabrication, it's time for packaging. The wafer is cut into individual pieces called die. The die is packaged between a substrate and a heat spreader  to form a completed processor. The package  protects the die and delivers critical power and electrical connections when placed directly into a computer circuit  board or mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet.

Intel makes chips that have many different applications and use a variety of packaging technologies. Intel packages undergo final testing for functionality, performance and power. Chips are electrically coded, visually inspected, packaged in protective shipping material for shipment to Intel customers and retail

Robert Noyce accepting an award from President Carter

At the Intel Museum: "From Sand to Circuits"

Learn more about the making of silicon chips at the Intel Museum’s permanent exhibit, "From Sand to Circuits," located in Intel’s Robert Noyce Building, Santa Clara, California.

See location and hours for the Museum >

Explore other online exhibits

If you can't make it to the Intel Museum, you can still enjoy a tour of Intel history with these online versions of the exhibits.

Graph showing Moore's law

Moore's Law

Meet Intel's co-founder and see how his bold prediction set the pace for ongoing innovation.

Find out why Moore's Law rules at Intel >


The Intel® 4004 chip

Get the story behind Intel’s first microprocessor, and learn how it changed the course of technology and the world.

See how it made history >

black and white photo of Robert Noyce

Robert Noyce

Intel’s co-founder and the co-inventor of the integrated circuit, he made numerous contributions to the advancement of technology.

Learn more about this extraordinary leader >

history of innovation timeline

Learn More About Intel History

Explore the events that made news and advanced the world of technology.

View timeline >

outside view of building with intel logo on side of building.

Intel Annual Reports and Anniversary Publications

Relive the Intel journey that started in 1968.

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person in clean room wearing a clean suit and glasses. neon green background

Talk the Talk

Terms used everyday at Intel

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