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System On A Chip- Technology Explained!

What is a System on a Chip?

Since smartphones and tablets are basically smaller computers, they require pretty much the same components we see in desktops and laptops in order to offer us all the amazing things they can do (apps, music and video playing, 3D gaming support, advanced wireless features, etc).

A system on a chip, or SoC, is a complete computer system on a chip. They are small, self-contained, energy efficient and have low heat output. A SoC potentially includes all the core capabilities of a server such as software, a microprocessor, graphics processing unit, networking chips, memory and data storage. The following are potential applications of the technology.

Thanks to the wonders of miniaturization, SoC manufacturers, like Qualcomm, Nvidia or Texas Instruments, can place some of those components on a single chip, the System on a Chip that powers your beloved smartphone.

What’s inside of a SoC?

Now that we know what a SoC is, let’s take a quick look at the components that can be found inside it. Mind you, not all the following parts are built in all the different SoCs that we’re going to show you later on, but in order to better understand how a SoC works, you should have a general picture of what goes inside it:

  1. CPU – The central processing unit, whether it’s single- or multiple-core, this is what makes everything possible on your smartphone.

  2. Most processors found inside the SoCs that we’re going to look at will be based on ARM technology, but more on that later

  3. Memory – just like in a computer, memory is required to perform the various tasks smartphone and tablets are capable of, and therefore SoCs come with various memory architectures on board

  4. GPU – the graphic processing unit is also an important component on the SoC, and it’s responsible for handling those complex 3D games on the smartphone or tablets. As you can expect, there are various GPU architectures available out there, and we’re going to further detail them in what follows

  5. Northbridge – this is a component that handles communications between the CPU and other components of the SoC including the southbridge

  6. Southbrige – a second chipset usually found on computers that handles various I/O functions. In some cases the southbridge can be found on the SoC

  7. Cellular radios – some SoCs also come with certain modems on board that are needed by mobile operators. Such is the case with the Snapdragon S4 from Qualcomm, which has an embedded LTE modem on board responsible for 4G LTE connectivity

  8. Other radios – some SoCs may also have other components responsible for other types of connectivity, including Wi-Fi, GPS/GLONASS or Bluetooth. Again, the S4 is a good example in this regard.

Other circuitry:

ARM vs x86 CPU Architecture

Throughout this article you will see us mention the ARM technology more than once, since the SoCs used by current Android smartphones and tablets are built using this ARM architecture.

So what is ARM exactly? 

What’s important to remember is that ARM is still the preferred choice by SoC manufacturers, as the architecture ensures high performance at low power, which is what customers are unconsciously interested in.

The Intel 8086 CPU launched in 1978 was a 16-bit microprocessor that was followed by several successors whose names also ended in “86.” Thus, the x86 term was coined. Today the x86 architecture also includes 32-bit CPUs, which can be found in various computers that you may be using on a daily basis. The disadvantage of x86 architecture in mobile SoC is that they’re not as power efficient as ARM-based CPU. Only Intel currently develops an x86-based SoC for mobile devices, the Atom Medfield platform.

GPU architectures:

The SoCs that we’re going to describe below use various GPU technologies coming from various companies. You’ll see GeForce, Adreno, ARM Mali, or PowerVR get mentioned a few times so here’s what these names mean:

GeForce – produced by NVIDIA, these are the ultra low power graphics cards found on Tegra 3 SoC

Adreno – produced by Qualcomm, the Adreno GPUs are part of the Snapdragon SoC made by the same company. Some Adreno GPUs can also be used on future Microsoft Windows 8 devices.

ARM Mali – as you may have guessed, Mali GPUs are designed by ARM and they’re currently used on various SoC designs including Exynos and NovaThor

PowerVR – PowerVR is a leading GPU designers, whose GPUs are found on various SoCs including Medfield, NovaThor (future designs), OMAP, and even Apple Ax.

Some Examples where SOCs are used:

Mobile Devices:

Mobile devices such as smart phones. SoC may integrate analog, 3G and WiFi capabilities.

Data Centers:

Deployment of server-class SoC known as microservers in data centres to save space, power consumption and heat.


A hardware assembly that puts multiple microservers into one box together with power, cooling, networking and security features that collectively resemble a tiny Cloud Using microservers as a pool of computing resources for a cloud platform.

Machines & Infrastructure:

Building software intelligence into machines, infrastructure and transportation. For example, shipping boxes that transmit their location and status to improve supply chain.

SoC varieties:

There are various SoCs out there, from different manufacturers that equip Android devices, from smartphones to tablets, but they’re not completely similar. Let’s take a look at some of the most important ones for you.

NVIDIA Tegra 3

Also known as Kal-El, the NVIDIA Tegra 3 series is one of the SoC sub-families of the Tegra family and it’s currently employed by various Android devices, including, but not limited to, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Pad, HTC One X (international version), the Asus Transformer Pad 3, LG Optimus, And Many Samsung Phones Have Tegra 3 SoC on board.

Samsung Exynos 9810:

The Exynos 9810 introduces sophisticated features to enhance user experience with deep learning-based software. This cutting-edge technology allows the processor to accurately identify items or persons in the photos for fast image searching or categorization.

Furthermore, the Exynos 9810 enables a depth sensing feature to scan user’s face in 3D for face tracking filters as well as strong security when unlocking a device with one’s face.

The Exynos 9810 features a 3rd generation custom CPU upgraded with wider pipelines and optimized cache memory. With a clock speed of up to 2.9GHz, a 3rd generation custom CPU offers higher computing power so that its single-core and multi-core performances are improved around two-fold and 40 percent respectively when compared to its predecessor.

With combination of octa-core CPU consisting of four custom CPUs for performance and four Cortex-A55 for efficiency, the Exynos 9810 offers greater processing power for intensive tasks resulting in seamless multi-tasking and computing experience.

Notably, the Exynos 9810 is built on the 2nd generation 10nm FinFET process to deliver a powerful performance with less power.

The Exynos 9810 embeds LTE modem that supports category 18 with 6CA(carrier aggregation) for downlink and 2CA for uplink. With faster downlink and uplink speed of up to 1.2Gbps and 200Mbps respectively, the Exynos 9810 allows new kinds of video experience such as streaming of high quality virtual reality contents.

To maximize data throughput, the embedded modem supports 4×4 MIMO (Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output) and higher-order 256 QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) scheme, and utilizes eLAA (enhanced Licensed-Assisted Access).

The Exynos 9810 enables secure mobile experience with powerful features dedicated to security. The Exynos 9810 safeguards sensitive security software against malicious attack by combining binary encryption with enhanced DRAM encryption. The Exynos 9810 also features firewalls that isolate internal sub-systems from each other.

For instance, with a firewall setup around modem or Wi-Fi sub-system, the processor is able to protect the main system against an unauthorized remote access via modem or Wi-Fi. Furthermore, the advanced hardware design utilizing a concept of secure and non-secure worlds hastens the growth of security-based mobile experiences such as payment, biometric authentications, UHD DRM, and so on.

Which one is best for me?

The obvious question you may have is, which of the SoCs above is best for me?

In case you’re buying one of the last-gen Android tablets and smartphones available out there, which will surely pack one of the SoCs mentioned above, then you’re likely to get a similar performance across the board. Sure, every SoC manufacturer will defend its own brand with words like “power efficiency,” “high performance,” “3D graphics,” “full HD video,” but all these competing platforms will offer overall enjoyable user experiences with few differences between them.

The fact remains that you shouldn’t buy a new device after looking only at SoC capabilities, but you should consider more factors like wireless connectivity, camera performance, and storage, in order to make a more informed purchase.

In case you want to buy a new/second-hand older Android device, then you should pay attention to its SoC and its capabilities, and check out performance comparisons (benchmark tests) to see how your chosen device fares against other devices.

And let’s not forget that all companies mentioned above are already working on next-gen SoCs, and we can’t wait to see what next year’s smartphones and tablets will be able to do thanks to new internal components and improved operating systems.


What is SoC in IoT?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the interconnection of millions of autonomous devices to the internet. … Many of these new IoT inventions will be implemented with a single system on a chip (SoC) to provide the highest level of integration and conservation of area.

 What is SoC and NOC?

The NOC is usually responsible for monitoring and maintaining the overall network infrastructure, and its primary function is to ensure uninterrupted network service. The SOC is responsible for protecting networks, as well as web sites, applications, databases, servers and data centers, and other technologies.

 What does an SOC analyst do?

SOC staff includes analysts, security engineers, and SOC managers who should be seasoned IT and networking professionals. They are usually trained in computer engineering, cryptography, network engineering, or computer science and may have credentials such as CISSP or GIAC.


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