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). For example, an Iris scanner includes a microcontroller, an encoder and a decoder, memory, Input-output logic control for a user on a single chip. Intel’s Curie, an SoC based on the Intel Quark SE, is the size of a shirt button but, it has everything required for computational power for wearable devices.
It comes in an easy-to-integrate package with a six-axis combo accelerometer and gyroscope sensor to enable movement tracking and gesture recognition.
A desktop PC used to need a lot of different chips to make it work. You had the big parts: the CPU that executed most of your code and the GPU that rendered your pretty 3D graphics. But there were a lot of smaller bits too: a chip called the Northbridge handled all communication between the CPU, GPU, and RAM, while the Southbridge handled communication between the Northbridge and other interfaces like USB or SATA. Separate controller chips for things like USB ports, Ethernet ports, and audio were also often required if this functionality wasn't already integrated into the Southbridge itself.
As chip manufacturing processes have improved, it's now possible to cram more and more of these previously separate components into a single chip. This not only reduces system complexity, cost, and power consumption, but it also saves space, making it possible to fit a high-end computer from yesteryear into a Smartphone that can fit in your pocket. It's these technological advancements that have given rise to the system-on-a-chip (SoC), one monolithic chip that's home to all of the major components that make these devices tick.
The fact that every one of these chips includes what is essentially an entire computer can make keeping track of an individual chip's features and performance quite time-consuming. To help you keep things straight.
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.
One reason that SoCs have gotten so much faster so quickly is because the competition has been fierce and the potential rewards have been big. For now, this continues to be true—let's hope it stays that way.
There is lot to talk about SoC, but this is it for now.