Differences between PCB and integrated circuit

Some people often confuse certain concepts. For example, while surfing on Quora, I came across a question: What is the difference between Integrated Circuit and PCB? For those unfamiliar with circuits, these two concepts can indeed be easily mixed up, and some might even think they are the same thing, which is clearly incorrect, although there may be some similarities. In this article, TechSparks will compare the two in terms of concepts, functions, and manufacturing to help you distinguish them from each other.

Table of Contents

Definition

An integrated circuit, commonly referred to as an IC or chip, typically manifests as a small square or rectangular silicon wafer. This silicon wafer contains numerous tiny electronic components such as a transistor, capacitor, and resistor, which together form a complex circuit. At the bottom or around the edges of the chip, there is usually a row of pins that serves as an interface to connect with other electronic devices.

Advanced Reading: What does integrated circuit mean?

On the other hand, PCB, or printed circuit board, is one of the core components of modern electronics. It’s typically a thin board with a surface covered in a circuit pattern, including wires and connection points. A PCB can be designed differently based on project requirements, such as in various colors like red, green, yellow, or purple, and in shapes like a square, rectangle, or circle, with options for both rigid and flexible designs.

Advanced Reading: What does PCB stand for in electronics?

Function

After the circuit is powered, an integrated circuit leverages its internal structure and design to perform specified functions. This can include executing logical operations, storing data, processing graphics, and other tasks. The nature and performance of these functions determine the overall functionality of the device, which is why integrated circuits are often referred to as the ‘brain’ of a device.

In a strict sense, ‘PCB’ stands for a bare board, which primarily functions as a platform for carrying a circuit and providing electrical connections. However, users might sometimes confuse integrated circuits with PCB because in practical applications, PCB is often used to host and interconnect multiple electronic components. Once these components are assembled onto a PCB, it forms a complete PCBA board, which is similar to an integrated circuit in that it integrates multiple components into a single physical unit.

Manufacturing

There is a certain interchangeability between the manufacturing of integrated circuits and PCBs, where a platform is used to lay out circuit patterns and then arrange components. Here are the processes involved:

Integrated Circuit Manufacturing:

  1. Manufacture thin silicon wafers using high-purity single-crystal silicon.
  2. Apply a layer of silicon dioxide for insulation.
  3. Coat the wafer with photoresist and create the circuit pattern using photolithography.
  4. Introduce impurities into the wafer to form conductive channels.
  5. Deposit metal or insulating material onto the wafer’s surface.
  6. Use chemical solutions or plasma etching to form the structure of components.
  7. Encapsulate the components in plastic or ceramic casings.

PCBA Manufacturing:

  1. Design the circuit pattern according to circuit requirements.
  2. Use photolithography to print the circuit pattern onto the inner copper foils of the PCB.
  3. Etch away excess copper foil from the inner layers, leaving behind the required conductive pathways.
  4. Stack different layers together and laminate them to form a unified board.
  5. Prepare holes required for component placement and electroplate copper onto the hole walls.
  6. Perform outer layer imaging to create the outer layer circuit pattern.
  7. Mount electronic components onto the PCB surface and solder them to form the PCBA board.

Summarize

Integrated circuits and printed circuit boards, although closely intertwined in the field of electronics, are two entirely distinct entities, each playing a crucial role. To better understand the differences between them, they can be likened to components of a city.

A PCB is akin to the multifaceted infrastructure of a city, filled with a network of various connecting and supporting elements, much like roads, bridges, and buildings, providing a stable framework for the entire city. It carries various electronic components, connecting them, enabling them to work together cohesively, much like a city’s transportation system linking different locations.

On the other hand, IC is akin to critical areas within the city, such as government buildings or research centers. They serve as the “brain” of electronic devices, containing intricate circuits and transistors responsible for executing various advanced functions, much like government buildings overseeing vital city affairs.

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