Sil­i­con plat­forms help to en­able ver­ti­cal in­te­gra­tion by bring­ing high-per­for­mance dig­i­tal, ana­logue, me­mory and ra­dio fre­quency (RF) tech­nolo­gies—all of which have his­tor­i­cally been sep­a­rate on a sin­gle chip

Electronics For You - - Tech­nol­ogy -

Dur­ing start-up pe­riod, a com­pany has to do ev­ery­thing it­self, from pro­vid­ing all the pieces of the tech­nol­ogy (hard­ware and soft­ware) to bundling it to­gether into a so­lu­tion. This is ver­ti­cal in­te­gra­tion, and it al­lows the com­pany to con­trol the cus­tomer’s ex­pe­ri­ence, leav­ing noth­ing to chance in those early make-or­break days.

In elec­tron­ics, when an en­tire tech­nol­ogy prod­uct fam­ily is man­aged ver­ti­cally, it must be based on a solid sil­i­con plat­form—a sys­tem-onchip (SOC). It is on this chip that all the nec­es­sary dig­i­tal, ana­logue and me­mory re­sources re­side to sup­port the spe­cific ap­pli­ca­tions that will be run­ning. There are three mar­kets in par­tic­u­lar ( re­fer Fig. 1) that drive plat­form de­vel­op­ment: Mo­bile tech­nol­ogy, cloud com­put­ing and con­sumer elec­tron­ics. Each of these has dif­fer­ent needs.

Mo­bile prod­ucts are pro­lif­er­at­ing wildly, and their util­ity is ex­tend­ing far be­yond sim­ple com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In par­tic­u­lar, stream­ing video is be­com­ing com­mon­place, and this puts enor­mous stress on the phone’s graph­ics ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Mo­bile gam­ing and higher user ex­pec­ta­tions for res­o­lu­tion and clar­ity in­ten­sify the pres­sure on the graph­ics sub­sys­tem; res­o­lu­tion is now at least 720p, and of­ten as high as 1080p.

Con­nec­tiv­ity is the other crit­i­cal re­source for a mo­bile de­vice. Smart­phones must have Wifi and 3G/4G cel­lu­lar ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Such de­vices can also typ­i­cally con­nect to servers and PCS in or­der to ac­cess more per­ma­nent in­for­ma­tion, en­able file shar­ing and down­load data. This means that mo­bile sys­tem- on- ship ( SOC) plat­forms need to bring to­gether mul­ti­core CPU, graph­ics pro­ces­sor, USB, ra­dio mo­dem and mul­ti­me­dia pro­cess­ing on a sin­gle chip. Per­for­mance and power are, of course, crit­i­cal; sym­met­ric mul­ti­pro­cess­ing helps to man­age the bal­ance.

A cloud com­put­ing en­vi­ron­ment, in con­trast, is one where com­put­ing re­sources can be pooled and ac­cessed re­motely on de­mand, and it has dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments. This means that the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of data into and out of such an en­vi­ron­ment can de­fine the user ex­pe­ri­ence. Ded­i­cated net­work pro­cess­ing SOC plat­forms off­load the bur­den of en­sur­ing that the net­work traf­fic (wired, wire­less or mo­bile) is han­dled, while pro­vid­ing enough high-speed me­mory to store all the tran­sient data and man­ag­ing se­cu­rity. This al­lows the stan­dard server sub­sys­tem to han­dle the ac­tual ap­pli­ca­tions do­ing the work that the user re­quested.

Fi­nally, con­sumer elec­tron­ics is char­ac­terised in part by its sheer va­ri­ety— mo­bile de­vices, high- end gam­ing, high­def­i­ni­tion TV, dig­i­tal cam­eras, me­dia play­ers and ad­vanced home ap­pli­ances. Here again, per­for­mance and con­nec­tiv­ity are crit­i­cal, and emerg­ing SOC plat­forms have to be able to man­age high­res­o­lu­tion video bal­anced against con­nec­tiv­ity, per­for­mance, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and cost.

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