Systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) are being taken to the cloud. Just as microprocessors drove the PC boom 20 years ago and the Internet drove the communications boom 10 years ago, SoCs are revolutionizing consumer electronics today. Each boom brought us new applications, rapid declines in product costs, and many more users. Microprocessors drove computer volumes in the millions, but complex SoCs are driving consumer products in the billions.
What is driving SoC complexity? Sonics Inc. CEO Grant Pierce focused on that question in his talk May 16 at the Semico Research Corp. Impact Conference. As we all know, today's consumers want higher quality at lower prices. They want video, voice, data, and audio in everything. All this convergence pushes the need for multi-GHz performance.
Apps run on everything, and apps need "Gigas," whether that means a 1-3GHz multicore CPU, a 100-plus-GFLOPS multicore GPU, or a 15-50GB/sec DRAM chip. As we use more apps, we will continue to need even more Gigas. But all these Gigas burn more and more power. That is why our devices die so quickly. These SoCs have gotten so powerful that today's batteries can't afford to power them all at once.
And now we've come to what is driving SoC complexity. By using subsystems, we can power only those sections of the SoC that are in use while the other subsystems remain dark. This is cloud-scale power management. It allows designers to keep SoCs dark more frequently with hardware-controlled shutdown and automatic wakeup. Cloud-scale management lowers a SoC's power use by 50 percent.
Ultimately, SoC complexity leads to improved battery life for those mobile devices using more and more Gigas.