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What is a Programmable Chip?

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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A programmable chip is an electronic component that contains a series of instructions that are executed each time the chip functions. Some of these chips have fixed programming, while others contain rewritable code. These chips are the cornerstone of modern electronics; they are present in nearly every electronic device. In most cases, these chips provide information to a central system or translate input signals into command operations.

The construction of a programmable chip is much like that of any other microchip. A series of semiconductive devices connected with internal circuitry and electronic components are bonded to a layer of semiconductive material. These chips are made mostly of plastic and silicon with a few different metals making up the rest. Since the material cost of the average programmable chip is extremely low, they are simple to produce and can be included in any electronics device with ease.

This chip contains a basic program that executes whenever the chip is active. This program might translate one signal into another, output a piece of data from a sensor or make a calculation based on input. In other words, a programmable chip can do nearly any task given to it by its programmer. These chips are limited only by the size of program and the limitations of the connected device.

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In order to function, a programmable chip needs to be activated. Some chips are active whenever they have power, while others are only activated when needed. The basic operation of the chip is the same in either case. They receive input, often a signal or small piece of data, and then manipulate that input into a new form and send it on. This new data may go to a larger system for processing, a user interface or even another programmable chip.

One of the main jobs for these chips is processing user input. A programmable chip inside an electronic device will read a button press or similar input and translate that into information for the device’s central processor. In a similar vein, it is common to find these chips connected to all sorts of different sensors in devices ranging from cell phones to automobiles. These chips take information from the sensor and translate it the same way they do with user interfaces.

While some of these chips work totally independently of a central system, many programmable chips have connections to a main processor. This central processor is much more complex than the chips, although it works in a very similar way. The main system takes all of the disconnected information provided by the chips and collects it into a usable format. From there, it may do any number of things depending on its overall function.

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