A system on a chip or SoC is an integrated circuit that integrates all components of a computer or other electronic system into a single chip. It may contain digital, analog, mixed-signal, and often radio-frequency functions all on a single chip substrate. SoCs are very common in the mobile computing industry and help enable the functionality of smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches in a small power efficient package.
Coherent Market Insights discusses in System on a Chip (SoC) Market what an SoC is, different types of SoCs, applications, advantages and the future outlook for this important technology.
What is a System on a Chip?
At its most basic level, a system on a chip can be defined as integrating many or all of the components of a computer or other electronic system into a single integrated circuit. This includes components like the central processing unit (CPU), memory, input/output ports, and other supporting functions that are essential to create a complete electronic system. By combining all these components onto a single semiconductor chip, SoCs help lower manufacturing costs while greatly increasing the functionality to size ratio of electronic devices.
Types of SoCs
There are different types of SoCs based on the components they integrate and applications they target:
– Graphic Processing Unit/Central Processing Unit SoCs: Also known as GPU/CPU SoCs, these integrate both graphics and general computing capabilities on one chip to power devices like game consoles, desktops, laptops etc. Examples include Tegra from NVIDIA.
– Dedicated Graphics SoCs: Targeted for embedded graphics in devices like smartphones, tablets, these focus mainly on Graphic Processing Unitcapabilities while having limited CPU functionality. Qualcomm’s Adreno GPUs are commonly found in these types of SoCs.
– Application Processor SoCs: Form the core of smartphones and other mobile devices by integrating application processing, graphics, wireless connectivity, camera/image processing etc. Qualcomm Snapdragon and Apple A-series SoCs fall under this category.
– Connectivity SoCs: Handle wireless communication functions like WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS in devices. Can be standalone or combined with other components in application processors.
– Baseband Processor SoCs: Includes modem processor for cellular connectivity in addition to other components in connectivity SoCs.
Key Applications of SoCs
Due to their ability to integrate many components in a compact design, SoCs have become ubiquitous in portable electronics. Here are some of their major applications:
– Smartphones: Modern smartphones would simply not exist in their current form without SoCs. Application processors power all smartphone brands like Apple iPhones, Samsung Galaxy devices etc.
– Tablets: Much like smartphones, tablets leverage high-performance yet low-power SoCs to offer computing capabilities in portable touchscreen devices.
– Laptops and Desktops: While not as common as in mobile devices, GPU/CPU combo SoCs are being adopted in entry-level laptops and compact desktop PCs for their power efficiency.
– Internet of Things Devices: SoCs enable the miniaturization and low energy usage of connected devices like smartwatches, drones, smart home assistants, industrial sensors etc.
– Game Consoles: Modern game systems like Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo Switch rely on SoCs integrating fast CPUs and powerful GPUs.
– Digital Cameras: SoCs handle image processing and storage functions in point-and-shoot as well as DSLR cameras for photography hobbyists and professionals.
Advantages of System on a Chip Design
There are considerable benefits to adopting a system on a chip design approach over designing circuits with discrete components:
– Reduced Size and Weight: Integrating everything onto a single chip makes circuits much more compact compared to separate ICs, enabling miniaturization.
– Lower Power Consumption: Fewer components means less switching between them, lower power consumed and longer battery life especially valuable for portable electronics.
– Cost Savings: Designing, testing and manufacturing related costs are reduced due to fewer components involved in a SoC.
– Increased Performance: Components working together efficiently on a single substrate deliver faster processing than discrete ICs interconnected externally.
– Enhanced Reliability: Fewer solder joints and connections remove failure points, improving reliability over the lifetime of electronic devices.
– Quicker Time to Market: SoC design reuses existing IP blocks to roll out new products on accelerated schedules.
The market for system on a chip is expected to grow significantly in the coming years driven by the need for powerful yet efficient computing solutions. Smartphones and tablets continue to push this technology forward, though applications are rising in automotive, IoT, industrial and networking domains as well. Asia Pacific is a current market leader particularly countries like China, South Korea and Taiwan. However, North America and Europe are catching up as focus shifts towards sectors beyond mobile. For more detailed analysis, please refer to the market research report on SoCs published on Coherent Market Insights.