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The silicon lottery and high-end processors

April 5, 2019

The silicon lottery and high-end processors

This post is also available in : Spanish

What is the silicon lottery? And high-end processors?

What does computer science have to do with lottery and high-end processors? Actually, not too much. But there is an important factor in the manufacturing process of the processors that has quite a lot to do with both.

Maybe you’ve heard of the silicon lottery and high-end processors. The latter are sought by some people almost as if they were the Holy Grail.

These types of processors are really prized for their ability to deliver great performance. In this article we are going to know both concepts, so that you see that computers, lottery and high-end processors do have much more in common than it seems…

What is the silicon lottery?

To understand what the silicon lottery is we should first know a little about the manufacturing process of the processors.

As you know, silicon is the material on which the processors that use our computers are made (at least until it is replaced by new materials, which could happen in a few years). To do this, it is introduced into ovens, where it reaches high temperatures and melts. It is then purified, its impurities are removed, and the material is poured into moulds in which it is cooled, forming monocrystals.

Subsequently, the monocrystals are cut into wafers, which are chemically treated and polished, and then passed to the lithography machines, which will print the circuits on their surface.

What happens is that, no matter how much effort is made in the effort to sanitize the material so that the purity of silicon is maximum, there are parts of wafers in which its cleanliness is very high, while others may contain small imperfections. In addition, there may also be some minor faults in the manufacturing process. What does this mean?

What happens is that the purest parts offer an advantage when it comes to manufacturing the processor. These wafers, which are usually closer to the centre of the wafers, need a lower core voltage (what we know as Vcore), which means that the processor will need less power to work, which in turn will probably mean that it warms up less. In fact, some less pure parts of the wafers – usually located on the edges – are often discarded for the manufacture of processors, as they are not considered suitable.

Indeed, when we acquire a computer we do not usually have knowledge of what is the purity of the silicon. We may have purchased one whose cleaning is standard, but we may also have purchased a “winning” number and received the “good one” of the silicon lottery in the form of high-end processors.

High-end processors

We know as high-end processors those processors that have been awarded in the lottery of silicon with a material of the highest purity and therefore can offer a superior performance.

However, you shouldn’t worry too much if you haven’t been graced with this type of processor. Major manufacturers usually guarantee the quality of all their products, so you shouldn’t have any problems if you’ve purchased a more “normal” processor. The thing is, if you’ve been lucky enough to buy high-end processors its performance is likely to be somewhat superior.

In addition, another thing to keep in mind is that the “silicon lottery” is not “played” only in the manufacture of processors, but also works with other components of the computer, such as the cores of graphics cards. So, if you haven’t had any luck with the processor, you might have it with another component!

In search of high-end processors

A curious phenomenon that occurs in some computer users is their fondness for trying to obtain high-end processors, or at least to know if their computer would be one of them.

What happens is that it is difficult to establish what we can consider as high-end processors, especially considering that the performance of processors constantly changes due to the evolution of manufacturing processes. Thus, it is likely that what is today considered a “high-end” (always from a subjective point of view) will no longer be “high-end” in a few years’ time.

However, some users take measurements to find out the ratio between the performance achieved by their processors and the voltage they need to reach it, driven by the illusion of having high-end processors.

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