System on a chip integrating a main processor with a graphics processing unit

Almost all computing devices in the market now are equipped with one main processor working in concert with an auxiliary or co-processor known as the graphics processor. Used to be placed on separate parts of the motherboard that is the nerve center of the computer or mobile device, lag in communication between the two processors in handling computationally demanding tasks such as graphics processing and rendering meant that holding the two processing units in distant parts of the circuit board is no longer an option.


Thus, an idea emerged in the past 6 years of integrating the main processor (together with the caches and data bus) with the graphics processing unit or GPU. This brought forth the system on a chip concept, which in one integrated piece of silicon is etched, through advanced photolithography, an integrated system comprising both the graphics processor, central processing unit and accessories processing tools.


Such system on a chip (SOC) enables fast and efficient communications between the main processor and graphics processing unit, which enable high speed computations and is increasing the de facto requirement for processing complex graphics based webpages as well as videos on high definition screens. This requirement for high computational speed and load is even more acute on a per computing task basis for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, due to the requirement for the main processor to handle data encryption algorithms necessary for protecting an individual’s privacy when communicating using the phone call and short message service (SMS) functions.


But, the downside of integrating the main processor and graphics processing unit in one system on a chip lies in the need for dissipating the excess heat generated from the processors. Specifically, contemporary requirement for fast computations necessitate high processor clock speed for handling the large amount of calculations needed for rendering graphics and moving information between the device and the Internet. Hence, large amount of heat is generated which could progressively degrade processor performance and led to its eventual failure.


Understanding the difficulty of heat management in system on a chip has prompted many manufacturers to ditch the concept in favor of placing the main processor and graphics processor at different locations on the motherboard. This arrangement helps in reducing the concentration of heat that arises from placing two high performance processors close in location on the mother board. Hence, in tapping the performance gains possible from integrating the main processor and graphics processor into one integrated system on a chip, heat dissipation and management are key trade-offs both for the chip and motherboard designer in realizing a device with high performance while ensuring durability.


Category: materials, computer security,

Tags: system on a chip, graphics processor, main processor, heat dissipation, computational load, heat management,


Acknowledgement: Ng Wenfa thank Seah Kwi Shan for co-authoring this blog post.


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