How a Typical System on a Chip Works

When you buy a mobile device, the multi-core capabilities, processing power, and speed often matter the most. But as you generally focus on the processor, there are more complex things happening. In fact, there is a system-on-a-chip (SoC) within these devices offering more complex functionalities.




What Is SoC?


The fact that mobile devices are basically smaller computers, they have the same components as do desktops and laptops. Therefore, they are able to do amazing things just as your computers normally do.


However, these tiny computers are not able to provide the same capacity as your desktop or laptop for different components needed. Such would include the graphics card, processor, and RAM.




Components of A SoC


There are a number of components you can find inside an SoC chip that you may need to know in order to understand how they work. Here are the general details so that you may be able to get an idea of what goes on inside a system-on-a-chip.


  • Central Processing Unit (CPU) – This component makes everything possible when you use your smartphone. CPUs can be single- or multiple-core processor, which is mostly based on ARM technology.


  • Memory – A computer has the memory required to perform different tasks, which is also what you can find in an SoC in your smartphone or tablet. An SoC basically has different memory architectures inside to fulfill its tasks efficiently.


  • Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) – Another important part you can find on the SoC is the GPU. It is responsible for handling complex 3D games on your mobile devices. There are many GPU architectures available in the market just as you might expect.


  • Northbridge – A component that is capable of handling communications between a CPU and other components of the SoC is called a Northbridge or Southbridge.


  • Southbridge – Another component capable of handling various input/output functions is the second chipset called the Southbridge. This component is found inside the SoC in some cases.


  • Cellular Radios – There are certain modems that you can find in a system-on-a-chip needed by mobile operators. This is the case for the Snapdragon S4 from Qualcomm, which has an embedded LTE modem on board. This will be responsible for the 4G LTE connectivity.


  • Other Radios – You may also find other types of connectivity that SoCs use, including Bluetooth, GPS/GLONASS, or Wi-Fi.




Different Types Of SoC


There are different types of SoC chips used by various manufacturers of mobile devices. They are not entirely similar, so here are a few of the most popular system-on-a-chip found in your mobile devices.


  • NVIDIA Tegra 3
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
  • Samsung Exynos 4 Quad
  • Intel Medfield
  • Texas Instruments OMAP 4
  • ST-Ericsson NovaThor



Apple also has its own system-on-a-chip which is the popular line of AX chips, namely the A9X, A10X, and A12X. These chips have been many of the iOS devices of Apple starting with the iPad. Its flagship Apple SoC is the A10X, but its newest model iPad Pro utilizes the A12X SoC chipset.




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