A system on a chip or system on chip (SoC) is an integrated circuit (also known as a “chip”) that integrates all components of a computer or other electronic system. These components typically (but not always) include a central processing unit (CPU), memory, input/output ports and secondary storage – all on a single substrate or microchip, the size of a coin.
For example, a smartphone SoC would include the processor cores, graphics processing unit (GPU), memory caches and a neural processing unit (NPU). In this case, NAND flash storage, RAM, camera, audio, power and numerous small ICs are on the device’s motherboard outside the SoC.
It may contain digital, analog, mixed-signal, and often radio frequency signal processing functions, depending on the application. As they are integrated on a single substrate, SoCs consume much less power and take up much less area than multi-chip designs with equivalent functionality. Because of this, SoCs are very common in the mobile computing (such as in Smartphones) and edge computing markets. Systems on chip are commonly used in embedded systems and the Internet of Things.
Systems on chip (SoC) are also enabling Military applications that rely on small size, weight, and power consumption (SWaP) such as micro air vehicles, soldier-worn electronics, and battlefield networking .
“The real-estate savings that are found with SoCs are pretty considerable when we note that not too many years ago it took many chips to equal the benefits of these SoCs,” Demers told the panel. “Another benefit to SoCs is that many also realize a power savings, which in turn helps to fuel further development on more powerful, yet less power-hungry, devices.
“SoC is always improving,” notes Zak Sucher, business development manager at Israel’s Techaya. “In every generation, we are managing to squeeze more applications on a single chip, so today we can use one or two chips where we once used three or four. It is going toward eventually taking over all previous platforms, but the military market moves slower; you can still find things today that were in use 10 or 15 years ago and what’s being done today will still be there 10 or 15 years forward.
“We see them on soldier apps, where everything he carries needs to be small and provide a lot of comms to other devices; the same for UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], where you need low power consumption, small units, and interconnectivity,” Sucher says. “So all soldiers and unmanned applications are the major users. A soldier can only carry a certain amount of equipment and every gram of equipment he can remove means he can carry more food, water, or ammo. So the lighter the radio and other equipment, the more essential items he can carry.”
Advanced ASIC System on Chip for CLASS
A Lincoln Laboratory research team developed a high-performance, highly power-efficient ASIC SoC (application-specific integrated circuit system on chip) that can perform up to 2 trillion computations per second. This small but powerful SoC is extremely useful for many low–size, weight, and power mobile military communication devices, such as handheld radios or communication systems on small platforms like unmanned aircraft.
This SoC, developed for DARPA’s Computational Leverage Against Surveillance Systems (CLASS) program, can enable advanced and computationally intensive digital signal processing techniques. For example, the CLASS SoC has been used in a protected communication system that Lincoln Laboratory has built and demonstrated. The ASIC SoC allows this system to shield communications in a way that requires adversaries to use supercomputer-level processing to intercept them.
Shift to multifunction capability
While size, weight, and power (SWaP) and component integration are and always will be primary drivers for commercial and military platforms, a major shift toward software is giving multifunction capability to more and smaller systems. Becoming software-defined also enables faster and less expensive updating of capabilities without needing to change the hardware with each incremental advance, a critical factor for SoC-based military systems that do not change with the frequency of commercial smartphones.
“What has driven all this is the need to integrate all these functions and the really wideband apps, such as electronic warfare [EW]. So it’s a combination of more bandwidth and the [system] intelligence to run some software apps inside these embedded processors,” says Avnet’s Langlois. “EW, for example, is all about dominating the RF spectrum for jamming while receiving your own communications in the clear across an ultra-wideband past 200 GHz. So traditional programmable logic, even before SoCs, continue to play a role because they are the only devices that can interface with these high-speed components, as they have for the past 20 years.”
Just as the demand for more battlespace bandwidth across the board has been growing faster than the military can implement new technologies to address it, so has it impacted the ongoing evolution in SoC speed and capability. That is especially true in areas such as EW, software-defined radios, and large antenna arrays.
“EW has an ever-increasing demand for bandwidth, digitizing beyond 200 GHz of spectrum, which is massive – and it never ends,” Langlois says. “We’re talking thousands of gigaMACs, which is one billion multiply and accumulate instructions that just about any signal processing app uses. In some cases, we have on the order of 2000 to 3000 gigaMACs of digital signal processor (DSP) capability. In EW, where you’re trying to digitize and analyze 200 gigabits of bandwidth, these SoCs certainly will be important. Another big app is phased array, where you have arrays of antennas for MIMO [multiple input/multiple output] apps, 10×10 or bigger.
“In terms of SDR, the P25 standard proposed for public safety apps is seeing a lot of interest, [especially] any type of comms system that needs to send video, Langlois continues. “The avionics space certainly has multiple requirements (HUDs, SATCOM, radar, security) with new features making it harder to reverse-engineer this new family of SoCs. The same is true for anything that goes into space and needs to be rad-hard and robust in terms of single event upsets. These new SoCs will be used there, as well, although there is always a lag between the creation of any type of rad-hard chip and its incorporation into final products.”
System-On-Chip Technologies Market
The global system on chip market will reach 80.7 billion USD by 2023 from 49.7 billion USD in 2017 with a CAGR of 8.41% during the period.
Increase in demand for power efficient electronic devices, high adoption rate of IoT based technologies are major drivers of the market. The compact nature of SoCs is also boosting the market growth. However, high initial cost of design and development of SoCs is hampering the market growth.
Growing demand for low power consumption devices will provide an impetus to the System on Chip (SoC) Market growth. Industrial sectors depend on advanced energy-efficient technologies for reducing their overall cost & expenses. The rising environmental concerns in these industries are encouraging the adoption of such technologies. Several components are integrated into the electronic arrangements to develop a circuit that will provide advanced energy-efficient solutions.
Mixed signal technology is witnessing a high adoption in the System on Chip (SoC) Market owing to growing applications of these components in several industrial sectors. The applications of these components are growing in several industrial sectors such as consumer electronics, healthcare, and computers & ICT. Several advantages of these components are high efficiency, smaller form factor, and reduction of electromagnetic interference.
The Leading Industry Players in System-On-Chip Technologies Market: Apple Inc, Broadcom Limited, Infineon Technologies, Intel Corporation, Qualcomm Inc, Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Toshiba Corporation, MediaTek Inc, Marvell Technology Group, Arm Holdings PLC, Elpida Memory Inc, LSI Corporation, MIPS Technologies Inc, Texas Instruments Inc, Microsemi Corporation, Fujitsu Semiconductor Inc