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In the early days of integrated circuits, only a few transistors could be placed on a chip, as the scale used was large because of the contemporary technology, and manufacturing yields were low by today’s standards. As the degree of integration was small, the design process was relatively simple. Over time, millions, and today billions,[15] of transistors could be placed on one chip, and a good design required thorough planning. This gave rise to new design methods.


The first integrated circuits contained only a few transistors. Called “small-scale integration” (SSI), digital circuits containing transistors numbering in the tens provided a few logic gates for example, while early linear ICs such as the Plessey SL201 or the Philips TAA320 had as few as two transistors. The term Large Scale Integration was first used by IBM scientist Rolf Landauer when describing the theoretical concept[citation needed], from there came the terms for SSI, MSI, VLSI, and ULSI.

SSI circuits were crucial to early aerospace projects, and aerospace projects helped inspire development of the technology. Both the Minuteman missile and Apollo program needed lightweight digital computers for their inertial guidance systems; the Apollo guidance computer led and motivated the integrated-circuit technology,[16] while the Minuteman missile forced it into mass-production. The Minuteman missile program and various other Navy programs accounted for the total $4 million integrated circuit market in 1962, and by 1968, U.S. Government space and defense spending still accounted for 37% of the $312 million total production. The demand by the U.S. Government supported the nascent integrated circuit market until costs fell enough to allow firms to penetrate the industrial and eventually the consumer markets. The average price per integrated circuit dropped from $50.00 in 1962 to $2.33 in 1968.[17] Integrated circuits began to appear in consumer products by the turn of the decade, a typical application being FM inter-carrier sound processing in television receivers.

The next step in the development of integrated circuits, taken in the late 1960s, introduced devices which contained hundreds of transistors on each chip, called “medium-scale integration” (MSI).

They were attractive economically because while they cost little more to produce than SSI devices, they allowed more complex systems to be produced using smaller circuit boards, less assembly work (because of fewer separate components), and a number of other advantages.

Further development, driven by the same economic factors, led to “large-scale integration” (LSI) in the mid 1970s, with tens of thousands of transistors per chip.

Integrated circuits such as 1K-bit RAMs, calculator chips, and the first microprocessors, that began to be manufactured in moderate quantities in the early 1970s, had under 4000 transistors. True LSI circuits, approaching 10,000 transistors, began to be produced around 1974, for computer main memories and second-generation microprocessors.


Main article: Very-large-scale integration

Upper interconnect layers on an Intel 80486DX2 microprocessor die

The final step in the development process, starting in the 1980s and continuing through the present, was “very large-scale integration” (VLSI). The development started with hundreds of thousands of transistors in the early 1980s, and continues beyond several billion transistors as of 2009.

Multiple developments were required to achieve this increased density. Manufacturers moved to smaller design rules and cleaner fabrication facilities, so that they could make chips with more transistors and maintain adequate yield. The path of process improvements was summarized by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS). Design tools improved enough to make it practical to finish these designs in a reasonable time. The more energy efficient CMOSreplaced NMOS and PMOS, avoiding a prohibitive increase in power consumption.

In 1986 the first one megabit RAM chips were introduced, which contained more than one million transistors. Microprocessor chips passed the million transistor mark in 1989 and the billion transistor mark in 2005.[18] The trend continues largely unabated, with chips introduced in 2007 containing tens of billions of memory transistors.[19]