By Benoit De Lescure, ArterisIP
EDN (March 18, 2021)
“The network is the computer,” coined by John Gage of Sun Microsystems back in 1984, proved incredibly insightful. This idea is re-emerging, this time within the SoC realm. Functions in a chip that communicate with each other—not through simple wires but through complex network elements such as switches, protocol converters, packetizers, and so on—are not so different from the set of computers communicating through a network within a cabinet, or a room, back in 1984.
Before SoCs, to connect from A to B on a board, engineers could move data through a bunch of wires. The biggest worry was about managing wire length and ensuring that A and B use the exact same protocol for communication, but that was about it. The real action was in the compute elements. Wiring between these precious components was then a simple design task.
From wires to active bus logic
As SoC capabilities grew, it became possible to consolidate whole boards and even bigger systems onto a single chip, all governed by a central processing unit (CPU) or cluster of processors. Each CPU ran software to orchestrate the system to handle functions that require the flexibility software enables. Solutions from companies like Arm, which provided processors, grew rapidly. Other suppliers quickly followed, including intellectual property (IP) providers for functions other than CPUs. At first, by offering peripheral IPs to handle many interface protocols and then evolving to specialized processors for wireless communication, graphics processing, audio, computer vision, and artificial intelligence (AI). Adding to this list are on-chip working memories, cache memories, double data rate (DDR) interfaces to off-chip or off-die DRAM, and more.
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