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System On A Chip (SoC) Explained In 2 Minutes

posted Mar 25, 2018, 12:43 PM by Rohit Bhaskar   [ updated Jul 10, 2018, 11:24 AM by Chirag Trasikar ]
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So you might have heard of microprocessors like 8085, a few microcontrollers like 8051, Atmega, ARM based microcontrollers etc.

First a complete computing system like a PC had a motherboard with all necessary components packed into a huge cabinet alongside it. If you were to make a mobile phone out of that system, imagine how hellish our life would be carrying that. As years passed, thanks to the physicists carrying out research out there, more and more transistors could be comprised on a single chip, an IC. So now you didn’t need a different processor, a RAM chip, an I/O peripheral chip, because all of that circuitry could now be fit into one single IC!


Those were the microcontrollers. But while fitting all of that into one circuitry, the miniaturization limitations meant reducing the power of each. The Arduino (a micro-controller platform) would obviously lose against an Intel Core processor based PC in a Math-a-thon right? Now with the dawn of the 21st century, manufacturing techniques evolved so much that we could now integrate a full fledged powerful processor along with all those peripherals required for a system to run. I wouldn’t say its wrong to call it a System-on-Chip.


So how does all this matter to you? Probably you are reading this on your phone, that device itself wouldn't exist without an SoC! There would be no miniature cool single-board-computers like the Raspberry Pi too.


In reality an SoC includes any IC that were originally different chips but are now packed into one, owing to the development of semiconductor fabrication technologies.


So what do SoC’s generally consist of?

  • CPU – the central processing unit, whether it’s single or multiple-core, this is what makes everything possible on your smartphone or a system.
  • Some gigs of memory including RAM, ROM everything.
  • GPU, yes a complete GPU now sits happily beside the CPU on a single chip.
  • Radios- Some SoC’s have taken it forward and included the WiFi, GSM etc modules onto the same chip as well!
  • Southbridge- This is a term given to the I/O Controller and other slow peripherals in a computing system. Well as you guessed it, this resides in that single chip as well.
  • Northbridge- This refers to the memory interfacing circuit and other high speed circuitry.


What an SoC makes possible is that a motherboard or the PCB(Printed Circuit Board) of your computing system would now require very few components besides the 1inch by 1inch SoC package. So computing systems are bound to become smaller! SoCs are widely used in all types of electronic devices and due to their immense efficiency, they will continue to run lots of electronic devices in the future.


This is a good article if you want to continue reading about SoC's and their different types.


- Viraj Sonawane