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27 Jun 2016

Mobile SOC Design

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Mobile SOC Design


Mobile SOC Design, When buying smart phones and tablets, we often talk about their processing power, and make a big fuss of their speed, and whether they can offer single-, dual-, or multiple-core capabilities. And while we do focus on the processor most of the time, you’ll have to know that things aren’t as simple as that. Instead of just simple processors, we have Systems on a Chip (SoC) inside these devices that offer more complex functionality.


What is a System on a Chip?snapdragon-810-soc

When talking about mobile processors, we first need to be clear about what exactly we mean by “processor”

In desktop PC and laptop specifications, the term processor tends to refer specifically to the CPU, the central processing unit, the element that provides the brainpower to the computer.

In mobile terms, “processor” more often refers to the System on a Chip (SoC).

The SoC is a single chip about the same size as a desktop CPU that contains most of the key components required to make a device function.

These include the CPU, as well as the GPU (the graphics processing unit, which would normally be found on a separate graphics card in a PC), and various radios and sensors for things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and even cellular data.

The SoC also determines specific features that a device can support, such as the resolution of images the camera can capture, or whether 4K video can be recorded or played.

The main benefits to an SoC are its size, its lower power consumption and power heat emissions

What’s inside of a SoC


let’s take a quick look at the components that can be found inside it.

  • CPU – the central processing unit, whether it’s single- or multiple-core, this is what makes everything possible on your smartphone. Most processors found inside the SoCs that are based on ARM technology.
  • Memory – just like in a computer, memory is required to perform the various tasks smartphone and tablets are capable of, and therefore SoCs come with various memory architectures on board.
  • GPU – the graphic processing unit is also an important component on the SoC, and it’s responsible for handling those complex 3D games on the smartphone or tablets. As you can expect, there are various GPU architectures available out there.
  • Cellular radios – some SoCs also come with certain modems on board that are needed by mobile operators. Such is the case with the Snapdragon S4 from Qualcomm, which has an embedded LTE modem on board responsible for 4G LTE connectivity
  • Other radios – some SoCs may also have other components responsible for other types of connectivity, including Wi-Fi, GPS/GLONASS ,NFC or Bluetooth.




Key things to focus in designing Mobile SOCs 

  1. Processor architecture :

The CPUs are mostly based on ARM architecture.

This is created by ARM Holdings and includes an instruction set that controls how the CPU works. This is licensed to the various SoC manufacturers who incorporate it into their products.

ARM has dominated the mobile space for many years, largely thanks to the lower power consumption of its processors (and improved battery life) when compared to the opposition. Intel has been attempting to make inroads into the markets in recent years with the x86 that is popular on the desktop, but with limited success.

  1. GPU:

GPU affects the visual parts of the user experience; it does have quite an impact on the perceived speed of a phone or tablet, with its interface packed with animations and other visual flourishes.

There are three major designers of mobile GPUs: ARM, Qualcomm and Imagination

GPU Designed by GPU name
ARM Mali
Qualcomm Adreno
Imagination PowerVR
  1. Fabrication Technology:

The fabrication of “silicon chips” isn’t easy. In fact it is a highly complex process that involves a lot of expensive machinery. To make a chip from silicon wafer to chips ready to sell, it takes several weeks. One of the parameters of fabrication system is known as the “process node” and it defines how small the transistors are and how small the gaps are between transistors. The Helio X10, the Kirin 935 and the Snapdragon 801 are all built using a 28nm (nanometer) process. The Snapdragon 810 uses a 20nm process, while the Exynos 7420 uses a 14nm process, known as 14nm FinFET.

Who is leader in designing mobile SOCs:

Qualcomm has been crowned king of the SoC market. According to Strategy Analytics, 63% of mobile devices have a Qualcomm chipset inside.

Top 5 mobile SOC manufactures

S.no Name of the comapnay SOC name
1 Qualcomm Snapdragon series
2 MediaTek Helio x10, x20,x25
3 Samsung Exynos family
4 Apple Cyclone series (A7,A8..)
5 NVIDIA Tegra (K1,K2)


Authored by Sudhakar ISM UNIV