What are ASICs?

ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits) are computer chips that combine several different circuits all on one chip – it's a "system-on-a-chip" (SoC) design – allowing it to be custom programmed to combine several related functions that together carry out a specific overall task.

And because all of the circuits are on the same chip, instead of spread out over different chips, an ASIC can execute that task much faster than a less focused circuit.

The uses for ASICs vary widely, but all generally involve controlling how an electronic device will function. From electronic toys, cell phones, and digital watches to communications satellites, avionics, and A.I. programs, the custom programming, compact size, and high reliability of ASIC chips make it a popular choice for industry, intelligence agencies, space programs, and defense systems.

For harsh environments where a chip's physical structure or functionality can be damaged by exposure to radiation – like on satellites in orbit around earth, spacecraft on missions to distant planets, or in nuclear power plants – there are radiation-hardened, or rad-hard, ASICs. These carry out tasks in much the same way as un-hardened ASICs do, but are shielded in a layer of depleted boron and mounted on insulating substrates, instead of on conventional semiconductor wafers, to resist radiation damage.


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