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Gallium Nitride vs. Silicon

Key Takeaways

  • Gallium nitride and silicon are two prominent materials used in semiconductor devices. 

  • GaN devices have excellent thermal and electrical properties with the ability to outperform silicon devices in terms of performance and efficiency.

  • Simulation and analysis tools can help designers analyze the properties of each material, facilitating the selection of the ideal option for better semiconductor device performance. 

A silicon wafer

The push towards reliable and efficient electronics has required manufacturers to look into multiple material options when manufacturing semiconductor technology.  The choice of material has a significant effect on the performance, functionality, and efficiency of the integrated circuit (IC). The ideal material should meet the required electrical and thermal properties, have integration capabilities, handle power densities, and much more, depending on the application of the electronic device. 

Silicon has been dominating the semiconductor industry for years with its excellent chemical properties that support stability and reliability. However, in recent years, manufacturers have also been focusing on gallium nitride for specialized applications. In this article, we will compare gallium nitride vs. silicon and explore the benefits of each in shaping the future of semiconductor technology. 

Gallium Nitride vs. Silicon


As a dominant material in the semiconductor industry, silicon has proven to be advantageous with its abundance and versatility. Silicon offers excellent electrical conductivity and thermal stability and can be reliably used in microprocessors, memory chips, and integrated circuits. Thermal stability allows silicon to operate at high temperatures in applications where heat dissipation can be a concern for degradation. Properties like electrical conductivity can be controlled by adding impurities through processes such as doping, allowing silicon to function both as a conductor and insulator. 

Despite the benefits, with technological advancements and the demand for increased power, silicon is facing functional limitations. The alternate option is gallium nitride. 

Gallium Nitride

Gallium nitride, or GaN, has a higher breakdown voltage, which allows it to handle higher voltages than silicon to experience an electrical breakdown. This means GaN-based devices can operate at higher power levels without compromising performance. Additionally, GaN has higher electron mobility, enabling faster-switching speeds and reduced energy losses compared to silicon. GaN also exhibits operability at higher temperatures, which makes the material ideal for applications where thermal management is a serious challenge.

Gallium Nitride vs. Silicon


Gallium Nitride


Thermal conductivity

100 to 180 W/m.K

150 to 200 W/m.K

Electron mobility

800 to 2000 cm2/Vs

1500 cm2/Vs

Breakdown voltage

600 to 1200 V/μm

600 to 900 V/μm


3.4 eV

1.1 eV

Power density



Switching speed



As shown in the table above, GaN devices outperform silicon devices in terms of performance and efficiency, positioning them as a game-changer in the electronics industry. The capability of handling high power has made them suitable for use in electric vehicles, data centers, renewable energy systems, etc. 

Manufacturing Compatability: Gallium Nitride vs. Silicon

Despite the better performance of GaN, it cannot yet act as a replacement for silicon. Firstly, the abundance of silicon makes it readily available and cost-effective for large-scale manufacturing. Silicon has also been used in semiconductors for decades, developing decades worth of knowledge, expertise, and infrastructures with extensive manufacturing capabilities. The compatibility of silicon-based semiconductors with the existing manufacturing capabilities reduces the requirement for major investments that may otherwise be required for developing new infrastructures for GaN-based devices. 

Selecting the Ideal Material Option

Although silicon is the dominant material, gallium nitride is becoming a powerful contender in the semiconductor industry. Both materials provide different degrees of performance and efficiency; thus, their selection should be done based on the thermal stability, electrical performance, and other requirements for the application.

Tools such as Allegro X from Cadence can also help in choosing between gallium nitride vs. silicon by assisting in advanced simulation and analysis capabilities. By simulating the electrical, thermal, and physical properties, system designers can make a comparison of the performance of both materials. By evaluating the different design parameters, design optimization requirements can be identified for both GaN and silicon-based devices. Through valuable insight into the device’s performance, designers can choose the material that most closely aligns with the design goals.

The package-specific features offered by Cadence’s Allegro X, such as seamless integration and design capabilities, can improve the productivity and efficiency of your packaging workflow. Leading electronics providers rely on Cadence products to optimize power, space, and energy needs for a wide variety of market applications. To learn more about our innovative solutions, talk to our team of experts.