What are Semiconductors?

Semiconductors are the foundation of modern technology. Discover how they work and how they’re made.

Tech 101

  • Contact Intel PR

  • Download this Tech 101

  • Follow Intel Newsroom on social:

    Twitter logo
    YouTube Icon



Semiconductors work tirelessly behind the scenes to power the world around us – from the technology in your house to the labs curing deadly diseases. They are the foundation of modern technology. Without them, billions of devices across the planet would not function. But what exactly is a semiconductor? And how are they made?

Let’s get right to it. The term semiconductor refers to a material that can be altered to conduct electrical current or block its passage. However, it more commonly refers to an integrated circuit (IC), or computer chip. The most common semiconductor material is silicon. Not surprisingly, silicon is also the main ingredient in computer chips.

Understanding Moore's Law

As small as a fingernail, semiconductors are arguably the most complex products ever manufactured. A common chip is only about 1 millimeter thick and contains roughly 30 different layers of components and wires called interconnects that make up its complex circuitry. Billions of microscopic switches called transistors make semiconductors work.

A mask engineer taking digital blueprints and converting them to glass templates, called masks, and printing on them with light
Photolithography machine is shinning light through the masks to re-create patterns, and the lens reducing the image, imprinting it onto a wafer's surface
Technician rolling a cart of wafers off to assemble an test plants
Every die is tested by a technician wearing a bunny suit. Only the die that are healthy will pass
A warehouse, or hub, houses all finished goods and will be distributed out to customers or other hubs

Major processor architectures

There are many different kinds of semiconductors – each with its own specialty (and its own acronym). Familiarize yourself with various kinds of semiconductors and learn more about what they do.

Icon of a FPGA, one of the four major types of semiconductors


Field-programmable gate array; software-configurable circuits

What they do:
Often used in applications that need to change often, including acceleration, communications, circuit design.

Icon of a GPU, one of the four major types of semiconductors


Graphics processing unit

What they do:
Make images; accelerate highly parallel operations.

Icon of a CPU, one of the four major types of semiconductors


Central processing unit (the brain of the computer)

What they do:
Run the computer and all its programs.

Icon of an ASIC, one of the four major types of semiconductors


Application-specific integrated circuit

What they do:
One thing very quickly, including deep learning, encryption and network processing.

Semiconductors are everywhere

The average American adult spends more than 12 hours a day using electronics, such as computers, mobile devices, TVs and cars. Those devices are all powered by semiconductors, which improve our lives, increase productivity and drive economic growth.

Smart energy

A/C temp sensors
Efficient logistics systems
LED light bulbs
Monitoring systems
Security devices
Smart home systems
Solar panels


RF transmitters
Wireless HD video


Smoke detectors
Coffee makers
Video games
Washing machines

Semiconductors are inside of so many things we use each and every day, such as smart energy, computing, IoT, healthcare, transportation and communication


Blood-pressure sensors
Hearing aids
Ultrasound modules
Wireless patient monitors


Advanced driver-assistance systems
Diagnostic equipment
Navigation systems


Digital cameras

Intel’s global manufacturing footprint

Intel has wafer labs in Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio, Ireland, Germany and Israel. Intel's assembly and test sites are in Costa Rica, Malaysia, Vietnam and Chengdu

Semiconductors are a worldwide business


The approximate cost to build a new semiconductor factory or “fab”


Global semiconductor industry sales in 2022


The number of construction, high-tech and support jobs a semiconductor fab typically creates

4 American
football fields

The equivalent clean room area in one typical semiconductor fab