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What Are the Different Types of Computer Chips?

David Bishop
David Bishop

Computer chips are thin, semiconducting wafers containing the circuitry that runs most modern computerized devices. These chips can range in size from the tiny processors that run smartphones and personal data assistants (PDAs) to the larger components that are the building blocks of the personal computer. In most devices, chips are installed on a larger circuit board that connects them together. Common types of computer chips include central processing units (CPUs), graphical processing units (GPUs), random access memory (RAM) sticks and custom chips designed to run devices such as digital cameras, music players and other consumer electronics.

CPUs are the backbone of most computer systems. On desktop and laptop computers, the CPU fits into a large slot on the computer's motherboard and allows users to perform everyday computing tasks such as word processing. These types of computer chips tend to generate a significant amount of heat and usually employ some sort of cooling system with fans or heat sinks. Portable devices such as smartphones utilize small, energy-efficient CPUs to fit in the smaller form factor.

A computer motherboard.
A computer motherboard.

Also known as video cards, GPUs are responsible for outputting data to a computer monitor. While graphics processing is a discrete function on many systems, some CPUs have the capacity to provide integrated graphics, which can perform basic video outputting tasks. Users who are interested in video gaming or using multiple monitors will still need to install a dedicated GPU in their system. Some of the more powerful GPUs require their own connection to the power supply and have their own cooling systems.

A computer chip.
A computer chip.

RAM is another important type of computer chip for most systems. RAM allows the computer to temporarily store data so it can be utilized quickly by the CPU. This type of memory can help speed up intensive computing tasks such as video editing and encoding. Many computers feature RAM expansion slots so the user can purchase additional memory in the future or swap out existing chips for more powerful updates.

A central processing unit.
A central processing unit.

Customized computer chips operate many consumer electronics devices that aren’t necessarily considered computers. Diverse appliances such as high-definition televisions, washing machines and cell phones use chips to perform basic functions, as well as managing advancements such as energy-saving options and different types of sensors. Newer automobiles may use several types of computer chips to monitor the condition of the engine and to enhance safety features such as airbags.

Discussion Comments


If you're thinking about buying a computer, it's definitely worth pricing the RAM separately. Often they seem to put the price up a lot between computer models when the only difference is the amount of RAM.

But RAM itself is so cheap these days, it's better to just get it and install it. Inserting the computer chips isn't difficult, they just fit right into the slots.


@clintflint - You know, I once heard the theory that the leap people made to create computer chips that were small enough for personal computers was such an enormous one for human technology at the time, that it should not have been possible. The theory goes that aliens or someone else gave the technology to us, for whatever reason.

I don't believe it myself, but I do think people take computer chips a bit for granted. I've always been disturbed by the idea that there isn't a single person in the world who can actually build a chip from scratch. All the components are made in different places and then assembled. If civilization failed tomorrow, we could conceivably keep electricity and other modern things, but we would have to say goodbye to computers because we couldn't make the computer hardware.


It's really amazing how quickly computer chips came down in size. I lived through the change and I still can't believe it.

I remember talking to a guy who told me he had had a chance to invest in a company that was making "micro" computer chips and that he really regretted not following it up, because it was later that year that cell phones really started taking off. They are just something we take for granted now though.


I'm unable to get the definition of megachip.

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    • A computer motherboard.
      By: VIA Gallery
      A computer motherboard.
    • A computer chip.
      By: ing_masa
      A computer chip.
    • A central processing unit.
      By: Restyler
      A central processing unit.
    • Heat sinks are often used to cool CPUs.
      By: Luminis
      Heat sinks are often used to cool CPUs.
    • Computer chips can range from tiny processors to larger components that run computers and other devices.
      By: chungking
      Computer chips can range from tiny processors to larger components that run computers and other devices.
    • Silicon computer chips are often used in mobile phones, laptops and other consumer electronics.
      By: sepy
      Silicon computer chips are often used in mobile phones, laptops and other consumer electronics.