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TUI University

Ronald Donaldson


Module #3 Case

Integrated Circuits

Dr. Shah
Integrated Circuits, Microprocessors, & Chipsets

For this module’s assignment, I will be delving somewhat into the deep end of
conceptual theory, as it relates and is attached to the central processing unit. I must
confess, until now I hadn’t realized the immense breadth of detailed information
available on the subject. But my research has given me a wealth of new insight into the
computer’s ‘brain’ functioning, as well as affording me a heightened understanding of
just how a computer works in general. At any rate, I will be presenting here a
comprehensive examination of the various processes and interrelations in which the CPU
plays a major role. I will also be approaching the broader, more inclusive subject from as
many unique viewpoints as are found to be of practical value to my work. In this manor,
the prescribed subject matter reflected here, through my paper, will not only be
appropriately supported, but I will have gained a 360° perspective of central processors, a
perspective that is achievable only after having considered the matter from within
multiple contexts. Having stated this, I will waste no further time on introductions.

Evolution of the Microprocessor

(A Very Brief Chronology)
For general purposes, the term microprocessor is often used interchangeably with

‘CPU’, and though there may be subtly discrete differences, I will be participating in the

trend of using the two terms interchangeably. As history has it, microprocessors have

been around for longer than one might think. Evidence of transistorized processors date

all the way back to the 1950s, but it wasn’t until around 1970 that computer scientists

really began making progress toward a singularly sufficient IC. (Wikipedia). This was the

dawn of the integrated circuit. And as time elapsed, conditions permitted for the cheap

manufacturing of significantly more efficient, integrated circuits. Amongst those first

vitally influential factors contributing to what we today know as the CPU, or IC, was the

transistor, or more specifically, it was the capability of implementing many on one board.
Microprocessors & Integrated Circuits
(A Closer look & Further Examination)
Once upon a time, and this is almost hard to fathom, but computers, the first of

them, occupied vast spatial dimensions. Now, we can more or less stick them in our

pocket. As I stated earlier, perhaps the most important step in the evolution of the CPU

was the trading in of all those extra boards and circuits, for a single, integrated, multi-

transistorized unit. With the newly acquired capability to manufacture highly reliable

transistors, both cost effective and less spatially demanding, integrated circuits began to

advance exponentially. Progression went from a hand full of transistors integrated over

numerous circuit boards, to hundreds of transistors on just one board, and then on to

thousands, and hundred thousands, even millions, and still counting, dare I say billions.

The first of these revolutionary IC designs were characteristically, SSI, (Small-

Scale Integration) bearing transistors in multiples of ten. SSI still required more than one

board, but it was a vast improvement over discrete circuitry. Not long after that, the MSI

(Medium Scale Integration) was introduced, packing in hundreds of transistors. Then

came LSI (Large Scale Integration), raising the ‘bar’ high into the thousands. In fact, over

the last few decades, since we began the endless pursuit of adding more and more

transistors to the IC, much credence has been directed towards Moore’s law, which states

that the quantity of transistors, squeezable into an IC will double about every two years or

so, approximately. And that brings me to VLSI, which supports upwards of a hundred

thousand transistors. (Wikipedia). Before proceeding further, I’m going to take this

opportunity to investigate and reflect upon the general architecture of an integrated

circuit, being as the subject is now wide open. I’ve already made apparent how important

a role transistors played, but what else characterizes an IC? Oh yes, I almost forgot to

mention the ‘ULSI’, which trumps all other scales of integration by comparison thus far.
Integrated Circuits
(Anatomy of an Integrated Circuit)
First of all, integrated circuits come in a variety of flavors. In fact, they can be
found in virtually any electronic device there is. At first, instinctively, I associated
integrated circuits with ‘circuit boards’, of the green variety, composed of dozens of odd,
tiny little components, each with their own unique functions and responsibilities. There
are transistors, of course, which act as current amplifiers, increasing the potential
applicability with each one added to the board. Then there are diodes, which act to
regulate the current within the circuit, ensuring functionality. And most certainly, there is
any number of components to be found on an IC, like resistors and capacitors. It all
depends on the circuit in question. But I’ve found the most striking of all these
implications to have been staring me right in the face! The microprocessor, the CPU, the
chip, the brain standing firmly as the chief implementation of all integrated circuitry.

Microprocessors are responsible for controlling the functions of the circuit, like
the brain to the body. Circuit boards are typically made from silicon, as it acts as an ideal
semiconductor. But sadly, there may inevitably come a day when we can no longer use
silicon, if the ‘bleeding theory’ is correct. Bleeding, as I understand it, is when current
paths are so small and close, that data actually intermingles, resulting in erroneous signals
reaching the wrong destinations, at best. And in contrast to Moore’s law, I’ve even heard
some mention that our processor capabilities may come to a grinding halt around 2014.
But I for one am not buying into it. What I do believe however, is that the most important
IC has been under my nose the whole time, the one with which we are most primarily
concerned here, the ‘chip’, or microprocessor. Not even to mention RAM. Integrated
Circuits then, have proven them selves to be the ubiquitous cornerstone of all technology,
and can be found lurking within electronic devices across the board. But the one
characteristic that can be found in all integrated circuits is solidarity. As apposed to its
predecessors, ‘discrete circuits’, ICs are always all in one place, characterized also by all
the components necessarily involved, being integrated into the circuit. (Answers.com).
Architectural Dimensions of a CPU
(Unmasking the Multifarious Mastermind Behind the Screen)

Up until this point, the path before me has been rather well lit, clear of debris, and
straight ahead for as far as the eye could see, which apparently, wasn’t very far. There is
some serious juxtaposition taking place here amidst the concepts I am now juggle in my
minds eye. There are many fine lines to this business of knowing where one concept
stops and another starts, and there’s plenty of gray space reserved for passers by to
become amused and lost in confusion. But I shall now endeavor to dissect what might be
typically ascribed as peculiar to the CPU, and not a microprocessor, or an integrated
circuit, or a chipset, though in theory and in practice, this is a reasonably steep and
slippery slope. Before I begin, I should state my belief that as of the moment, I have
found no difference between microprocessors and CPUs, though I don’t mean to make a
ridiculous ruckus over matters of triviality. Aside from that, a CPU/microprocessor is
both an integrated circuit, a chipset, and a key figure perhaps within other chipsets. Lets
see if I can break down the CPU structure. Who knows, maybe I’ll find something to
distinguish it from a microprocessor in the meantime.

All right, the votes are in, and the majority has it that the microprocessor is in fact
synonymous with CPU, for all general purposes. The central processing unit is
responsible for making calculations and following instructions, which in turn could then
be said to pass along these calculations and/or instructions to the corresponding
components directly involved under the circumstances. The user enters data, it is
interpreted/deciphered by the CPU, correlated with the hard drive, RAM then receives the
specifications and the CPU executes accordingly, very roughly. The North Chipset is also
reputed as being vitally important as well. The way the CPU comes to understand your
instructions is by decoding the binary it has received, which will amount to any
combination of zeros and ones, depending upon the impulse translation undergone by the
switches, which, according to the voltage received at a given time will dictate the value
given to the microprocessor. All of this occurs in accordance with CPU clock cycles.
At the web site, ‘Hardware Secrets”, there is a very simple ‘block diagram’ of a
CPU, described as follows; In sequence, starting from RAM where data is pulled from,
there is the 1) L2 Memory Cache, 2) the L1 instruction cache, 3) the fetch unit, 4) the
decode unit, 5) the execution unit 6) and the L1 data cache. This diagram sheds light not
only on the architecture of the CPU, but also of the processing sequence, though, only in
a most general manor, as CPUs of different vendors only share a general similarity.
(Torres, G.). The memory cache is of unrivaled value in the interest of performance for
the system, as from here, data has been transferred from RAM, so that it can be processed
sequentially by the timing of the CPU’s clock speed, as apposed to the RAM transfer
rate, which is several times slower the CPU clock speed. This is also where the transistor
integration characteristics come into play as, depending upon the CPU, more or less
‘power’ will be potentially utilized. To that effect, as with most components comprising
proprietary systems, the transistors within a chipset or CPU will co-exist within a context,
depending on the specifications of all other components.

The Chipset Enigma

(Where does it stop? Where does it start?)
Before I move on to pointing out the lines that contain and define the parameters
of a given chipset, it is important to note that all the while, the instructions are being
passed along throughout the system in accordance with the electronic impulses, which in
turn are translated via Boolean Algebra as binary code and are capable of representing
any characters needed. The CPU is equipped with a special function known as
microcode, which acts as an instructor to the processor should the information be
retrieved from RAM and found to be unfamiliar. The different compartments of the
processor are for dealing with different types of data that are in different stages of being
deciphered. From there, depending on what the section of the CPU is able to perform on
the data, it is perpetuated. Now that I have established a reasonable outline of data flow
within the system and through the CPU, I will move on to discuss the ever-mysterious
‘chipset’. What makes this so intriguing to me is that I’ve yet to identify what does or
does not qualify as an ‘official’ chipset. So far as my understanding reaches, it is simply
an amalgamation of components sharing a common goal within the system.
One of the points of interest to be addressed in this paper was the functioning of
some of the chips, which contribute towards a chipset, other than the microprocessor of
course. I would say, that even though I have seen the CPU itself characterized as a
chipset in some instructional materials, the most common example, I would have to say,
is still the motherboard. In this case, with the motherboard as an example of a chipset,
than every other chip functioning to the general rhythm of the system may justly be
considered a contributing function of that chipset. (Hardware Secrets.com) All of the
chips in a chipset, despite the primary objective of the chipset, must necessarily
contribute, or interact with the rest of the set in such a way as to serve a clearly defined
purpose that fits together within the system precisely. But I’d just like to reiterate that, the
motherboard, acting as, a ‘polar’ value, if you will, of chipsets, and since the CPU has
also been described as such, then it to would serve as a ‘polar’ value, of the opposite
extremity, leaving everything in between these extremes potentially a chipset. So
theoretically, wherever there are found more than one chip contributing to a clearly
defined objective, than they can justly be termed a chipset, and since it is a fact by
necessity that all components work together in unison, than there consequently must be
quite a number of chipsets within chipsets, serving chipsets.

Because I have left out what the authors of more than just one informative guide
on chipsets have announced, I will now discuss the missing links, namely, the north and
south chipsets. These are quite possibly the two most important chipsets mediating
between the user and the CPU. The north bridge chip is sometimes referred to as the
memory controller hub. In addition to communicating data bridged from the south
chipset, and at times serving the greater good of the CPU itself, either as part of its
chipset, or as the chipset housing the processor, the north bridge also controls the RAM,
the video controller, and possibly the disk drives. The south bridge, on the other hand,
connected by a bus to the north bridge, may also control the disk drives, along with USB
and PCI ports, audio, LAN serial, and SATA ports. As you can see, there are somewhat
different groupings of controlled devices assigned to each bridge; the north, being the
typical master of data and memory functionality, while the south rules the peripheral line
up, to an extent. In either case, these designations are chosen carefully with the overall
performance of the system in plain view.

In this paper I have endeavored to outline a basic architecture for both the CPU,

as well as that of an integrated circuit, and in reasonable detail I have described some of

the most pertinent processes and functions occurring within and around the CPU chipset

in relation to other chipsets and components of the system. I have explored the various

chips found throughout the motherboard, as well as considered at some length the impact

and variance of transistor capacity on system performance and design. In each step,

building from module two’s introduction to Boolean logic, it is clear how the chain of

events are overlapping somewhat and trigger one another all from a single initiated

electronic impulse deciphered as either one or zero in value, and thereby dictating all

actions and communications throughout the entire system. I have considered the impact

and influence upon design that the ‘value’ or classification of transistor capacity exerts

within the scope of operations and most interestingly of all, I have evolved my

understanding of all of the various components and chips contributing within the

motherboard, to a new depth of insight and precision. In particular, the CPU, being

comprised essentially of specialized ‘regions’ if you will, which are responsible for their

own relative tasks, and this has shed significant light on my comprehension. I look

forward to future CSC courses with great enthusiasm and genuine passion for


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Brain, M. HowStuffWorks - How microprocessors work. Retrieved on Nov 27, 2009,

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Glover, S. How do Desktop Microprocessors Work. Retrieved Nov 27 2009 from,


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Rubin, S. (1994). Computer aids for VLSI design. Retrieved on Nov 27, 2009, from


Sand Dunes Communications LLC (2006). Infrastructure: The chip-making process.

Retrieved on Nov 27, 2009, from http://www.infras.com/Tutorial/sld001.htm

Torres, G. (2005) Everything You Need to Know About Chipsets. HardwareSecrets.com.

Retrieved Nov 27, 2009, from http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/191

Wikipedia (n.d.). Integrated circuit. Retrieved on Nov 27, 2009, from