A CDE Definition
The interconnection of transistors and other electronic components via pathways made of copper or some other conductive material that is etched or laminated onto a rigid or flexible surface. The "printed" means that the material is deposited onto the substrate and that discrete wires are not used. The printed circuit stems back to the 1940s. See printed circuit board.
printed circuit board
A rigid, flat board that holds chips and other electronic components. The board is made of layers, typically two to 10, that interconnect components via copper pathways. The main printed circuit board (PCB) in a system is called a "system board" or "motherboard," while smaller ones that plug into the slots in the main board are called "boards" or "cards." See flexible circuit.
The "printed" circuit is an etched circuit. A copper foil is placed over a fiberglass or plastic base of each layer and covered with a photoresist. Light is beamed through a negative image of the circuit paths onto the photoresist, hardening the areas that will remain after etching. When passed through an acid bath, the unhardened areas are washed away. The finished layers are then glued together. A similar process creates the microminiaturized circuits on a chip (see chip).
Starting in the 1940s
Printed circuits were first used in the 1940s to connect discrete components together. By the 1960s, PCBs were widely used in all electronic systems, but still mostly connecting discrete components. Integrated circuits (chip) were emerging and added to the boards, and by the 1980s, PCBs were holding large quantities of chips. Today, printed circuit boards typically connect mostly chips with only a few discrete components, each chip containing from a few thousand up to hundreds of millions of transistors. See surface mount, via, discrete component, chip, card and motherboard.
Motherboard and Expansion Cards
They Can Be Very Small
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