What Are the Different Types of Integrated Circuits?

Benjamin Arie

An integrated circuit (IC) is a small electrical circuit created using a semiconductor substance, such as silicon. IC chips are found in nearly every modern electronic device, and allow compact technologies including computers and cell phones to be built. There are five major types of integrated circuits.

A SIM card, which contains an integrated circuit.
A SIM card, which contains an integrated circuit.

A dynamic random access memory chip (DRAM) is a type of integrated circuit that is essential for modern computers. Most personal computers and laptops contain at least one DRAM integrated circuit, and many computers hold several. A DRAM circuit is able to store digital data while power is present. If power is cut, the information stored in the memory circuit is lost. DRAM integrated circuits commonly hold temporary computer information, such as words typed on a screen or data from a streaming video.

The 5 types of integrated circuits are common in popular electronic devices.
The 5 types of integrated circuits are common in popular electronic devices.

Microprocessor units (MPUs) are a type of integrated circuit that act as the central processing area for a computer or other device. A microprocessor circuit is usually programmed with instructions that cannot be easily deleted, even if power is lost. These core instructions allow a device to perform properly when various inputs are received. Devices such as cell phones use microprocessors to execute important tasks such as connecting to a cellular network, while computers use microprocessor instructions to boot up and interface properly with attached hardware.

Random access memory chips and microprocessor units are examples of integrated circuits.
Random access memory chips and microprocessor units are examples of integrated circuits.

Another type of integrated circuit is the application specific integrated circuit, or ASIC. True to their name, an ASIC circuit contains digital instructions that are specifically customized to a certain purpose. ASICs contain essential programs and are similar to microprocessors, but are more specialized and limited than the chips used in computers. These types of integrated circuits are often used in single-purpose devices such as printers and car air bag units.

The digital signal processor (DSP) type of integrated circuit is specifically designed to process or interpret electronic signals. These circuits typically convert analog inputs into digital format, and filter out any signal that is not within a preset range. Signal processor microchips are common in audio devices such as cell phones and radios.

Programmable memory chips (EPROMs) are integrated circuits that are able to retain programs even if power is lost. Unlike ASICs or microprocessors, EPROM memory often receives programming only a single time, and keeps this single program for its entire use without any receiving any updates. Programmable memory circuits usually contain simple instructions for devices such as video games or handheld electronics.

Smart phones and computers both use several types of integrated circuits.
Smart phones and computers both use several types of integrated circuits.

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Discussion Comments


@NathanG - I am guessing that the DSP circuits are used in making phone calls. According to the article these circuits convert analog signals to digital.

I think when you make a phone call that’s what happens. Your voice call (which is analog I believe) gets converted somehow to a digital signal, and this travels through a fiber optic network.

On the other side of the call I think the circuit works in reverse – or another device is used to convert the digital signal back to analog again. Analog to digital conversions are quite common nowadays in a lot of applications.


@everetra - I rarely access my BIOS and don’t know a whole lot about EPROM memory. I do know something about DRAM. It’s a pretty standard form of memory nowadays.

I am told that with DRAM each bit is mapped to a transistor. This makes it very powerful and I think they can put millions of transistors on the chip so that’s a lot of capacity right there.


@allenJo - Yeah, computers are in your car. I rarely mess with those. That's what mechanics do.

I am glad that some computers don't typically go bad, however. I refer specifically to EPROMS. If you’ve ever had your computer crash, you’ve probably been told to boot from an installation disk.

Those settings are in the BIOS of your computer which you can access upon startup. The BIOS accesses the EPROM. Typically EPROM memory is permanent, unlike RAM or disk memory. Information stored in your EPROM has information like which drive to boot from on startup and so forth, so it’s very important.

To the best of my knowledge I don’t think EPROM memory can go bad. If it does, you’ve really got problems.


Computers are everywhere so it seems, in every form imaginable. IC chips power so many modern electronics and devices that we see and don’t see.

I was reminded of this last year in a most unusual way, with of all things my old Honda Civic. One day the car just up and died. It wouldn’t start no matter what I did.

I thought it was the battery or the starter but those turned out to be okay. I finally had a friend look at it. He knows something about cars.

After doing some testing, he said it was a bad computer. I didn’t even know that it had a computer. But apparently it does. My friend went to a auto junkyard and got a computer that was the same make and model as the one used by my Honda. He swapped it out and now the car runs fine.

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