A single crystal of silicon, usually less than a few millimetres across on and in which transistors networks and other electronic components are fabricated.
Although the capabilities of complex silicon chip
increase at a rapid pace, there is little or no reduction in cost of the simplest silicon chips. These have stuck at 5-10 cents for decades. The cost of a chip factory and the cost of research to improve production is rising exponentially so there is no reason to believe that the simplest chips will get significantly cheaper in future. An added concern is that these chips are the ones that make little profit so they are the first to be rationed and suffer price hikes when there is a chip famine i.e. demand exceeds capacity as happened in 1999 and, to a lesser extent in 2004.
Ironically, another problem with the silicon chip derives from its original strength. Silicon chips have subsumed many conventional components, making, or emulating them in one set of processing thus reducing cost and failure modes dramatically. With silicon chips this works better and more cheaply the smaller the chip. However, that has led to there being no more components to subsume because the remaining components are too large to incorporate economically. Examples are powerful resistors, capacitors and diodes or microphones, loudspeakers, solar cells, fuel cells, batteries, displays and actuators
Contrast printed electronics the device is low in cost even with a large footprint that can, in principle at least incorporate all the above components as codeposited layers or laminates. With printed electronics, where production facilities are usually relatively cheap and easy to expand and the technology is coming down in price. Printed electronics will therefore increasing replace silicon chips at the low end and one can say much the same thing about other conventional components, including displays. However, it will be many years before high frequency
performance or large numbers of transistors are economically possible for printed electronics in most applications so even simple microprocessors and the UHF
and microwave half of the RFID
market will be served by silicon chips for many years yet.