Working in a company that makes graphics processors, I am bombarded everyday with semiconductor industry jargon. So, I had been on the lookout for a light source of knowledge about this industry and finally discovered it in The Essential Guide to Semiconductors written by Jim Turley.
I loved the coverage of the following topics in the book:
Types of components in the semiconductor family. Analog components like resistors, capacitors, diodes and transistors. Types of digital chips like microprocessors, DSPs, FPGAs and ASICs.
How chips are designed in hardware companies like Intel, AMD, Qualcomm or NVIDIA. Architecting chips in VHDL or Verilog languages. Producing a netlist, floorplanning and place-and-route for the layers and wiring. Design verification using C models, simulation and emulation. Using hard/soft IP and physical libraries. Final tape out to send to the fab and that nervous wait to get back the first chip to see if it works as expected.
How chips are made at fabs like TSMC or Global Foundry. Wafers cut from silicon ingots to provide the silicon substrate for the transistor layer. Building the chip on the wafer like a layer cake using insulator, conductor and photoresist layers. Projecting the chip layer layout in a stepper using photolithography. Cutting up the chips, binning based on speed/defects and packaging.
Guide to FPGAs, ASICs and IPs. When and how a hardware team would pick among these choices to get a product out.
Other than the above topics, the book also covered the business of semiconductors, memory chips, barebones basics of microprocessor architecture and digital logic. These topics were not of much interest to me.
I must admit that this book turned out to be surprisingly fun, fast and light to read. Pretty much anyone with a technical or engineering training can pick it up and gain a good mental model of how chips are designed and manufactured. The software industry gets all the limelight, but it is simply stunning to realize how complex microprocessors having billions of transistors and multiple layers of intricate wiring to connect those transistors up are designed and manufactured without a single defect!
Jim Turley is a veteran columnist in the microprocessor field and he shares all that insider knowledge in the book. His writing experience shines in how accessible and fun this book was to read. I highly recommend this book for every non-hardware person working in the hardware industry or wishing to know how the industry works and its products are created.