What is system on chip architecture?

A system-on-a-chip (SoC) is a sophisticated circuit structure that lives up to its name. The term “system” refers to the presence of multiple modules within its internal framework. These modules include the processor core, memory, hardware logic, peripherals, and other essential components. To facilitate seamless communication, all these components are interconnected via an internal data bus or network. In this TechSparks article, we delve into the architecture of SoC and provide a comprehensive explanation of the functionalities of its various components.

system on chip block diagram
Table of Contents

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

In SoC architectures, the central processor serves as the main component responsible for executing instructions, performing calculations, and controlling the overall system functionality. Depending on the requirements, the CPU may feature multiple cores for parallel processing, such as ARM, x86, or other instruction set architectures.

Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

The GPU plays a vital role in SoC systems by managing graphics computations and accelerating image and video processing operations. In multimedia applications, GPU contributes to improved graphics quality and provides users with a smoother visual experience. It’s important to note that GPU performance, architecture, and functionality may vary based on specific system on chip designs and target applications. Manufacturers can either develop their own GPU designs or license technology from third-party vendors for integration into their SoC.

Memory

SoC integrates various types of memory to store data and instructions. Random access memory (RAM) is used for quick access to data and instructions by the CPU. Read-only memory (ROM) permanently stores firmware and other important system-level instructions.

I/O Interfaces

Different I/O interfaces can realize data transmission and communication with external devices. These interfaces can include USB ports, HD multimedia interfaces, Ethernet interfaces, audio jacks, and wireless connectivity options like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Peripherals

SoC chips integrate numerous peripheral components, including interrupt controllers, serial communication interfaces (such as UART, SPI, and I2C), timers, analog-to-digital converters, digital-to-analog converters, and various controllers. These peripherals enhance the functionality of the SoC and enable interaction with external devices and systems.

Power Management

Power management components to regulate and optimize power usage. Power management units ensure effective distribution of power to different SoC components, dynamically adjusting voltage levels and power states based on workload and system requirements. These features are essential for optimizing energy efficiency and extending battery life in mobile and low-power devices.

System Interconnect

To enable communication between different SoC components, a system interconnect is employed. This interconnects fabric facilitates data transfer and coordination among the CPU, memory, GPU, peripherals, and I/O interfaces. Common bus protocols like Advanced Microcontroller Bus Architecture (AMBA) or Network-on-Chip (NoC) are used to establish interconnectivity within the SoC.

Clock and Reset

The SoC structure design requires the inclusion of internal clock and reset circuits. The clock generates timing signals to synchronize the operation of various components, ensuring proper coordination and synchronization. The reset circuitry initializes the SoC during power-up and provides a mechanism to reset the system to a known state when necessary.

Digital Signal Processors

It is a specialized integrated circuit designed to efficiently process digital signals. While SoCs can incorporate DSPs into their chip designs, it’s important to note that DSPs differ from SoCs. DSPs excel at tasks like filtering, modulation/demodulation, compression/decompression, and audio/video processing. They are optimized for rapid and efficient signal processing, leveraging repetitive mathematical computations.

Intermodule Communication

Intermodule communication in SoC architectures refers to the exchange of data and communication between various modules or components within the SoC. Effective communication between these modules is crucial for overall system performance and functionality. SoCs integrate multiple functional blocks, such as CPUs, GPUs, memory, peripherals, and specialized hardware accelerators, onto a single chip.

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