Tactical Advice

Mobile Devices Fuel System-on-a-Chip Boom

SoCs are no longer the exclusive purview of embedded systems.
This story appears in the Fall 2013 issue of BizTech Magazine.
Mobile Devices Fuel System-on-a-Chip Boom
Credit: Veer

For a long time, system-on-a-chip (SoC) products were considered the domain of embedded systems. Not anymore.

SoCs integrate all major components of an electronic system, such as a computer, into a single chip or package. As a general rule, integration breeds a lower bill of materials (BOMs), an ideal setup in the embedded market. SoC-driven solutions didn’t have to be fast or feature rich; they just had to be realiable and cheap.

Certainly, SoCs continue to be enormous forces in the embedded world — AMD’s latest G-Series chips are an excellent example — but major growth has only recently started to mushroom, thanks largely to the rise of tablets and smartphones, hardware platforms that deliver high degrees of computing functionality in limited amounts of physical space.

“The key factor driving SoC evolution is the need for more integrated features on silicon, driven by user experience and computing requirements,” says Charles Matar, corporate vice president of SoC development at AMD.

Cisco System’s Internet Business Solutions group drew a lot of attention when it announced that “The Internet of Things” would be fueled by 50 billion connected devices — everything from servers to refrigerators (and even wirelessly monitored cattle) — by 2020.

The level of functionality demanded by such smart devices will typically require SoCs. The technology to manufacture this near-future connectivity explosion is only just now arriving.

Behind the SoC Explosion

Today’s latest-generation CPUs showcase SoC evolution in action. Two decades ago, a CPU was exactly that: a central processor. Then designs incorporated more cache, the memory controller, the northbridge, PCI Express lanes and the graphics processor. Discrete “chipset” and LAN controller packages are still necessary, but CPUs are ostensibly SoCs, as are the main processors in smartphones and tablets.

10 billion

More devices than people are connected to the Internet today. That number will rise to more than 50 billion by 2020, thanks in part to the growing prevalence of SoC technology.

SOURCE: Cisco Systems

“Today, SoC designs must encapsulate better performance, power efficiency, form factor flexibility and total BOM or silicon cost,” says AMD’s Matar. “These requirements are attainable not only via process technology advancements and shrinking nodes but also with new technologies that are being enabled, like 3D die stacking, packaging and many other innovations.”

SoC Frees Computing from Its Shackles

SoC adoption is a trend that translates into more performance (as seen with servers), longer battery runtime (all ultraportable devices) and greater functionality in ever-smaller packages (smartphones). Often, all three of these benefits can be seen in the same device class, such as today’s leading thin-and-light notebooks.

For businesses, the chief significance is ever-increasing mobility. In the 2000s, chip integration allowed computer manufacturers to eliminate the connectivity wire. Dial-up and Ethernet cables gave way to Wi-Fi. In the 2010s, SoC integration is helping to do away with the power cable as battery life scales into delivering a full day of business productivity.

“SoC removes the shackles of computing,” says Intel Technical Adviser Saurabh Dighe. “It is taking us to a place where computing will almost disappear into your environment. It’ll be everywhere, and it’ll be assisting you in leading a better life.”

Sign up for our e-newsletter

About the Author

William Van Winkle

William Van Winkle has been a full-time tech writer and author since 1998. He specializes in a wide range of coverage areas, including unified communications, virtualization, cloud computing, storage solutions and more. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.


Heartbleed: What Should Your... |
One of the biggest security vulnerabilities has almost every user and every industry...
Why Businesses Need a Next-G... |
Devices investigate patterns that could indicate malicious activity.
Review: HP TippingPoint S105... |
Next-generation firewall can easily replace a stand-alone intrusion prevention system....


The New Backup Utility Proce... |
Just getting used to the Windows 8 workflow? Prepare for a change.
How to Perform Traditional W... |
With previous versions going unused, Microsoft radically reimagined the backup utility in...
5 Easy Ways to Build a Bette... |
While large enterprises have the resources of an entire IT department behind them, these...

Infrastructure Optimization

Businesses Must Step Careful... |
Slow and steady wins the race as businesses migrate IT operations to service providers,...
Why Cloud Security Is More E... |
Cloud protection services enable companies to keep up with security threats while...
Ensure Uptime Is in Your Dat... |
Power and cooling solutions support disaster recovery and create cost savings and...


Securing the Internet of Thi... |
As excitement around the connected-device future grows, technology vendors seek ways to...
How to Maximize WAN Bandwidt... |
Understand six common problems that plague wide area networks — and how to address them.
Linksys Makes a Comeback in... |
The networking vendor introduced several new Smart Switch products at Interop this week.

Mobile & Wireless

Mobility: A Foundational Pie... |
Other technologies rely on mobile computing, which has the power to change lives, Lextech...
Now that Office for iPad Is... |
After waiting awhile for Microsoft’s productivity suite to arrive, professionals who use...
Visualization Can Help Busin... |
Companies need to put their data in formats that make it consumable anytime, anywhere.

Hardware & Software

Review: HP TippingPoint S105... |
Next-generation firewall can easily replace a stand-alone intrusion prevention system....
New Challenges in Software M... |
IT trends such as cloud, virtualization and BYOD pose serious hurdles for software...
Visualization Can Help Busin... |
Companies need to put their data in formats that make it consumable anytime, anywhere.