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How are computers made?


From Design to Factory Lines
They start out as many discrete components and wind up like this, thanks to the skilled workers at manufacturing plants.
They start out as many discrete components and wind up like this, thanks to the skilled workers at manufacturing plants.
Courtesy Toshiba

You can't build a computer until you decide on its purpose. Manufacturers first pinpoint a need for a specific product. Then they design that product on computers equipped with modeling software. With a product plan in hand, engineers can determine what sort of manufacturing equipment they'll need.

No matter which product they might conceive, it's a given that their digital wizardry will require substantial resources. Your computer is made up of a fantastic array of different materials, including steel, glass, silica sand, iron ore, gold, bauxite and a lot of others. All of those raw materials have to come from somewhere, such as mines.

Once the raw materials are gathered, they're transported to a factory, where individual computer parts are made. One factory might specialize in RAM chips; another makes top-quality CPUs. The intensity of CPU creation is one really good example of how much work and material goes into a single computer component.

CPUs are made mostly of crystalline silicon, which can be sourced from common sand. First, though, that silicon must be purified. This is one of the most critical steps, because even a minute trace of impurities can cause chips to fail. Once in purified form, the silicon is formed into wafers, which are simply thin sheets crystalline material.

Then, the CPU maker etches, or imprints, lines onto the surface of the wafer. This process is followed by the actual placing of transistors and circuits.

Then the wafer is thoroughly cleaned with chemicals to ensure there are no contaminants. And finally, the wafer is precisely cut into the many individual chips, or CPUs, which will eventually provide the horsepower for your computer.

That's an extremely condensed synopsis of CPU creation. Now imagine the same kinds of processes occurring for all of the other components inside your computer. It's no wonder that computer manufacturers outsource component construction to third-party companies.

On the next page you'll see how the computer maker collects individual parts and puts them together for a full-fledged machine.