Is System on a Chip the future of personal computing?


Author – Arjun Sunil Kumar


Is System on a Chip the future of personal computing?


What is a system on the chip? The term system on a chip has been used by many manufacturers as a big revelation over the past few years, but what is it really? A system on the chip is basically a single chip that houses all the essential components of a computer or device. Over the years chip manufacturers and computer manufacturers have discovered ways to put more transistors and more components into smaller spaces, and a system on a chip as one of those inventions. But why do manufacturers do this, wouldn’t it be easier to have all the chips spread out over a single board and have each chip perform a specific function. This is why things become clear as to why manufacturers created the system on a chip. 


There are many upside to having a system as a system on a chip, one of the main advantages is the smaller footprint of the chip helping make more compact devices and compact boards that can perform all the functions that an ordinary system could do. Generally system on a chip is based on the ARM architecture, that will help bring down the thermal load of the machine and avoid overheating with all these devices cramped up together. Another benefit of having a system on the chip is the proximity of all the memory and controllers to the processor which leads to more efficient communication between these components and allowing these components to work at the fastest level they possibly could. 


A system on the chip is also relatively cheaper to make as the cost required for efficient buses between components is reduced as these components are tightly packed together within a single unit. A system on a chip can also work more efficiently as most of the power is consumed transferring data between one controller to another or between a processor and memory, the power consumption is reduced as all the components of two by close of together requiring a lot less power to relay information between these components.


So now what are the drawbacks of the system, as is the last major everything that has an upside has to have a downside too, right? The problem with the system on a chip design is that if a single component fails inside the chip the entire board has to be replaced which leads to higher maintenance costs and repair costs for the device. Another major drawback is the design and creation cost which is extremely high if the chip is a low-volume product. Since a lot of components are crammed up inside a small chip, the complexity of the chip also increase making it difficult to find out a bug, if one exists. The ARM architecture and the compact design means that the chip would not perform well under power intensive tasks that require 100% engagement from the processor for extended periods of time. 


So to answer the title, is system on a chip the future? Yes, for most personal devices that require compactness and portability, whilst maintaining efficiency and performance, system on a chip will be a perfect fit. But, for a case where the user requires a lot of computational power for an extended period of time or is using a system for running processor intensive or graphics intensive tasks for hours at a time, System on a chip will be a disappointment due to its thermal design.



Arjun Sunil Kumar

Rajagiri School of Engineering & Technology,Ernakulam

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