A system on a chip (SoC) combines the required electronic circuits of various computer components onto a single, integrated chip (IC). SoC is a complete electronic substrate system that may contain analog, digital, mixed-signal or radio frequency functions. Its components usually include a graphical processing unit (GPU), a central processing unit (CPU) that may be multi-core, and system memory (RAM). A system-on-a-chip (SoC) is a microchip with all the necessary electronic circuits and parts for a given system, such as a smartphone or wearable computer, on a single integrated circuit (IC).
Because SOC includes both the hardware and software, it uses less power, has better performance, requires less space and is more reliable than multi-chip systems. Most system-on-chips today come inside mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
An SoC is specially designed to meet the standards of incorporating the required electronic circuits of numerous computer components onto a single integrated chip. Instead of a system that assembles several chips and components onto a circuit board, the SoC fabricates all necessary circuits into one unit.
The challenges of an SoC include higher prototyping and architecture costs, more complex debugging and lower IC yields. IC is not cost effective and takes time to manufacture. However, this is likely to change as the technology continues to be developed and employed.
An SoC usually contains various components such as:
• Operating system
• Utility software applications
• Voltage regulators and power management circuits
• Timing sources such as phase lock loop control systems or oscillators
• A microprocessor, microcontroller or digital signal processor
• Peripherals such as real-time clocks, counter timers and power-on-reset generators
• External interfaces such as USB, FireWire, Ethernet, universal asynchronous receiver-transmitter or serial peripheral interface bus
• Analog interfaces such as digital-to-analog converters and analog-to-digital converters
• RAM and ROM memory
An SoC for a sound-detecting device, for example, might include an audio receiver, an analog-to-digital converter (ADC), a microprocessor, memory, and the input/outputlogic control for a user - all on a single chip.
Intel’s Curie, an SoC based on the Intel Quark SE, is the size of a shirt button but includes everything required to provide compute power for wearable devices. It comes in an easy-to-integrate package with a six-axis combo accelerometer and gyroscopesensor to enable movement tracking and gesture recognition.
System-on-a-chip technology is used in small, increasingly complex consumer electronic devices. Some such devices have more processing power and memory than a typical 10-year-old desktop computer. In the future, SoC-equipped nanorobots (robots of microscopic dimensions) might act as programmable antibodies to fend off previously incurable diseases. SoC video devices might be embedded in the brains of blind people, allowing them to see and SoC audio devices might allow deaf people to hear. Handheld computers with small whip antennas might someday be capable of browsing the Internet at megabit-per-second speeds from any point on the surface of the earth.
SoC is evolving along with other technologies such as silicon-on-insulator (SOI), which can provide increased clock speeds while reducing the power consumed by a microchip.