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Chip Shots Gallery

The Chip Shots website explores the hidden beauty in some of today's hottest microprocessors as visualized under a microscope. Using a variety of highly refined reflected optical microscopy techniques, we have developed a large collection of full-color photomicrographs (photographs taken through a microscope) illustrating the intricate and surprising patterns observed on integrated circuit surfaces.

For decades, semiconductors have been doubling in power every 18 months or so, according to Moore’s Law, a rule of thumb coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. Intel was long the innovation leader in the $200+ billion semiconductor industry, but is facing tough competition from the 64-bit architecture of Advanced Micro Devices. The latest chips have a clock speed greater than 4 gigahertz and are packed with more than 100 million transistors, each circuit occupying just 90 nanometers (billionths of a meter) of silicon real estate. Chip designers are running into technical problems because some transistor structures, such as the gate oxide, are only a few atoms thick, so they leak electricity and tend to overheat.

Check out our dynamic Chip Shots Screen Saver for Windows.

Looking for creature features on chips? Check out the Silicon Zoo.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) - Advanced Micro Devices is a Silicon Valley manufacturer of integrated circuits. AMD is the second-largest supplier of x86-compatible processors, and a leading supplier of flash memory. Founded in 1969, AMD has long had a contentious rivalry with industry leader Intel, but recently has outclassed the competition with a 64-bit architecture for x86 series processors.

AT&T - Founded in 1885 as the American Telephone and Telegraph Co., AT&T is one of the world's largest telecommunications companies, but is no longer “Ma Bell.” Until the 1970s, AT&T was the world’s largest company. Bell Labs, its famed research division, won numerous Nobel prizes and invented some of the twentieth century’s greatest technologies, including the semiconductor and the integrated circuit. Government antitrust actions broke AT&T into the “Baby Bells,” and in the 1990s the company spun off two of its divisions: Lucent Technologies (much of the Bell Labs) and NCR Corporation. The famous AT&T brand and logo could disappear forever after its purchase by SBC Communications, one of its offspring Baby Bells.

Cyrix - Founded in 1988 by engineers from Texas Instruments, Cyrix was a short-lived company whose brand name is no longer used by its current owner VIA Technologies. In the 1990s, Cyrix's competition with AMD created the market for budget central processing units (CPUs) by reducing the average selling price of personal computers. The competition ultimately forced Intel to release its Celeron line of budget processors and cut the prices of its faster processors more quickly. Before its purchase by VIA, Cyrix was a subsidiary of National Semiconductor until that company distanced itself from the CPU market.

Digital Equipment Corporation - Digital Equipment Corporation, originally founded in 1957, was a innovative company in the American computer industry. It was generally referred to within the computing industry as DEC and later as DIGITAL. In 1998, DEC was bought by Compaq, which subsequently merged with Hewlett-Packard. DEC product lines are still produced under the HP name.

Fairchild Semiconductor - Fairchild Semiconductor was one of the major players in the evolution of Silicon Valley in the 1960s and introduced the first commercially available integrated circuit (at the same time as one from Texas Instruments). In the 1970s, Fairchild increasingly turned to “high end” customers and missed the developing microprocessor market. By the late 1980s, the company was in a relatively weak competitive position and was purchased by National Semiconductor. In 1997, Fairchild Semiconductor was reborn as an independent company.

Fujitsu - The builder of Japan's first commercial computer in 1954, Fujitsu is one of the world’s largest designers and manufacturers of integrated circuits and computer components. The company was established in 1935 as joint venture between the Furukawa mining company and the German conglomerate Siemens. Today, Fujitsu employs some 200,000 people and has another 500 subsidiary companies. In 1999, the active partnership with Siemens AG was revived in the form of Fujitsu Siemens Computers, which is now the European Union's largest supplier information technology.

Hewlett-Packard - Founded in 1939 in a garage in Palo Alto, California, Hewlett-Packard is one of the world's largest manufacturers of computers and peripherals. HP is acknowledged by Wired magazine as producing the world’s first personal computer in 1968: the Hewlett-Packard 9100A. HP called it a desktop calculator because, as founder Bill Hewlett said, "If we had called it a computer, it would have been rejected by our customers' computer gurus because it didn't look like an IBM.” Today, HP is a major developer and producer of printers, personal computers, information storage, test and measurement electronics, medical products, and software.

IBM - With more than 330,000 employees worldwide and revenues of $96 billion (figures from 2004), International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) is the largest information technology company in the world and one of the few with a continuous history dating back to the nineteenth century. IBM fields engineers and consultants in more than 170 countries. It is a pioneer in all segments of computer science and information technology, ranging from supercomputers to nanotechnology.

Inmos - Inmos merged with STMicroelectronics several years ago, but the small English company was an innovative producer of integrated circuits and microprocessors. The INMOS Transputer was a breakthrough parallel computing microprocessor design in the 1980s that many considered the future of computing. Today, this interesting chip is largely forgotten.

Integrated Device Technology (IDT) - Founded in 1980 to make semiconductors, IDT currently specializes in integrated circuits for network processing, in particular packet inspection products for firewalls. Historically, IDT was best known for their MIPS processors and for the IDT WinChip, an x86 processor designed by its Centaur Technology subsidiary. Their broad product mix includes memory, networking devices, RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) and x86 microprocessors, SRAM (Static Random Access Memory), and high-performance logic.

Intel - Perhaps the most recognized name in the semiconductor business, Intel was the first company to make the term "microprocessor" a household word. Intel has continually led the way from the first 8-bit microprocessor developed in 1972 to today's 64-bit speedsters pushing toward 4 gigahertz. Intel’s partnership with Microsoft was largely responsible for the personal computer revolution. Intel has advanced research projects in all aspects of semiconductor manufacturing, including nanotechnology MEMS (Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems).

MIPS - MIPS Technologies developed the MIPS (Microprocessor without Interlocked Pipeline Stages) architecture for RISC microprocessors. In 1991, MIPS released the first 64-bit microprocessor, the R4000. The design was so important to Silicon Graphics that SGI bought the company outright so that the design would not be lost in the financial difficulties of bringing it to market. MIPS designs have found broad application in embedded systems, Windows CE (handheld) devices, and Cisco routers. The Nintendo 64 console, Sony PlayStation console, Sony PlayStation 2 console, and Sony PSP handheld system use MIPS processors. By the late 1990s, it was estimated that one in three of all RISC chips produced were MIPS-based designs. In 2000, Silicon Graphics spun off MIPS Technologies as an independent vendor of embedded microprocessors.

MOS Technology - In 1975, Chuck Peddle, the founder of MOS Technology, developed a microprocessor chip called the 6502. Its fast, powerful (at the time) and cheap characteristics appealed to Steven Wozniak who used the 6502 in a homebrewed computer that attracted his future partner in Apple Computers, Steve Jobs. Although MOS Technology has long since vanished from the scene, it will live in the hearts of Mac lovers for eternity. After all, there is not a tremendous difference in speed between the 6502 and the iMac.

Motorola - Founded in 1928 as Galvin Manufacturing, Motorola, as it became known soon after, was a top manufacturer of radio technology before entering the semiconductor industry. Motorola has been a main supplier of microprocessors used in Commodore Amiga, Apple Macintosh, and Power Macintosh personal computers. In the 1990s, Motorola developed the PowerPC family processors in partnership with IBM and Apple. In 2004, Motorola spun off its semiconductor product sector into a separate company called Freescale Semiconductor, which remains the global leader in semiconductors for automotive applications and second largest producer of embedded microprocessors.

NEC - The Nippon Electric Company (NEC) is one of the world's largest manufacturers of microelectronics, personal computers, and peripherals. NEC has manufactured telecommunications equipment for more than a century and is one of the oldest companies in the computer industry, having begun research into transistors in 1950 and into integrated circuits in 1960. In the 1970s, NEC pioneered the emerging integration of computers into communications and created the first digital signal processor in 1980. In 1998, NEC opened the world's most advanced semiconductor research-and-development facility. Since then, NEC has ranked consistently near the top four companies in number of United States patents issued, averaging 1,764 granted each year.

Ross Technology - Ross Technology produced high performance microprocessors using the SPARC (Scalable Processor ARChitecture) architecture until 1998 when it was closed down. The Ross manufacturing division was resurrected as BridgePoint Technical Manufacturing (backed by Fujitsu and Cypress Semiconductor) to focus on providing back end semiconductor services. The company apparently is doing business now as Criteria Labs.

Sun Microsystems - Founded in 1982, Sun Microsystems is a computer, semiconductor, and software manufacturer headquartered in Silicon Valley. Sun was an early advocate of Unix-based networked computing, TCP/IP (transmission/internet protocol), and especially NFS (network file system), as reflected in the company's motto "The Network Is The Computer.” In the early 1990s, Sun developed the Java platform with the objective of allowing programs to function independently of a device’s hardware or operating system. Sun Microsystems grew explosively during the dot-com bubble of the 1990s and was severely hurt when the bubble burst, but has regained profitability. Sun has become a leader in the global open-source software movement by donating more than 1,600 patents.

Texas Instruments (TI) - Founded in 1930, Texas Instruments has been renowned for developing and commercializing semiconductor and computer technology. In 1954, TI designed the first transistor radio and independently developed the integrated circuit in 1958. The 7400 series of transistor-transistor logic (TTL) chips, developed by TI in the 1960s, popularized the use of integrated circuits in computer logic. TI invented the hand-held calculator in 1967, the single-chip microcomputer in 1971, and was assigned the first (almost simultaneous with Intel) patent on a single-chip microprocessor in 1973. Semiconductor products account for approximately 85 percent of TI’s revenues, particularly digital signal processors, high-speed digital/analog converters, and high performance analog circuits. TI has had great success in wireless communications with around 50 percent of all cellular phones sold worldwide containing TI chips. TI also is a top producer of digital light processors used in digital and video cameras.

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