Low-power SoCs Advance Mobile Computing at Blinding Speed
By Dave Altavilla, Editor-in-Chief of HotHardware on August 31, 2012
Before the explosion of the smartphone and tablet arena, system level performance was often defined in an era where integration moved at a much slower pace. As a result, new features, performance and usage models only became available as individual system building blocks were enhanced. We would have to wait for the memory controller block functionality in a system chipset to get revamped before being able to scale memory bandwidth to accommodate the higher bandwidth requirements of a multimedia workload being placed on the CPU, for example. And that’s to say nothing of I/O requirements, where bolt-on chips for all peripheral and networking connectivity just ran up the bill of materials cost and added bulk to device designs.
These days, systems-on-chip (SoCs) like Samsung’s Exynos 5 Dual combine digital and mixed-signal circuits on a single chip to advance capabilities and features such that we literally have a complete, robust, no-compromise computing experience right in the palm of our hands. The Exynos 5 Dual has not only two ARM® Cortex™-A15 processor cores at 1.7GHz, but this tiny chip also has a dual channel LPDDR3/LPDDR2/DDR3 memory controller and interface, integrated USB 3.0 connectivity, an integrated Image Signal Processor capable of 8 megapixel resolution at 30 frames per second and a high-performance ARM® Mali™-T604 graphics core with console quality graphics rendering horsepower. This graphics core also has the ability to drive resolutions of up to 2560x1600 (WQXGA), and that graphics block can output 3D stereoscopic images or transmit a signal over Wi-Fi to your HDTV. It’s pretty amazing when you stop and think about how much functionality exists on SoC devices such as this and how amazing the mobile computing and smartphone experience has become as a result of them.
Moving forward, the sky is almost quite literally the limit. As smaller and smaller silicon process geometries allow manufacturers like Samsung to integrate and squeeze in higher complexity functional blocks into the SoC of the future, we’ll be able to do even more incredible things with our smartphones and other handheld devices. I envision the new frontier will be environmentally aware computing, where your device will connect with the network wherever you are and offer you guidance, entertainment, personal data access, social services and information that will virtually assist you wherever you go. With all of this access, we’ll also require higher levels of security to protect our personal data and digital identities. Inline and onboard encryption engines will offer virtually uncrackable lockdown of our sensitive data. In this high-tech arena, demand drives innovation more than anything. The more we integrate these amazing devices into our everyday lives, the more we need to enhance security, ease of use and accessibility.
Thankfully, the SoC of the future will handle all of this and much more with ease. It’s almost hard to imagine life before the smartphone; before text messaging and email in your pocket. That said, the age of the System-on-Chip as we know it is just getting warmed up.