If you thought building homemade computer chips was impossible, you would be wrong. Sam Zeloof has just made his second homemade silicon integrated circuit featuring 1200 transistors, by using the same techniques as Intel did with its first CPUs in the 1970s.
Zeloof’s story is quite impressive: Fe started building his first chip in 2018 called the Z1, using a 5 micron PMOS process. He started building the chip in high school, and acquired all the information and machinery necessary to build the chips right from home.
Now in 2021 Zeloof has created his second computer, chip called the Z2. This chip is orders of magnitude greater than the Z1, with 1200 transistors on a single chip compared to just six on the Z1.
The Z2 is also much more efficient compared to Zeloof’s first design. By switching from a metal gate process to a polysilicon gate process, he was able to reduce the chip’s required voltage input from 10v to just 1v, reducing power consumption significantly.
For comparison, Intel’s 4004 CPU had 2200 transistors, while the Z2 has 1200 and is built on the same process. What took a whole company to do in the 1970s is now being done by a single person in his own home.
His yield rate isn’t perfect, which is to be expected from a home lab. Out of the twelve Z2’s he’s built, only one is fully functional, with the rest at around 80% functionality. So there’s still more tweaking and optimizations to be done.
Zeloof has shown that with the right amount of knowledge, it is possible to build your own integrated circuits right from home that can spar with the best–at least the best from the 1970s.
Don’t expect any of Zeloof’s chips to land on our Best CPUs list anytime soon. But we can’t wait to see what he manages to do after the Z2.