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Andrew Cunningham

Andrew Cunningham / Aurich Lawson

A desktop PC used to need a lot of different chips to make it work. You had the big parts: the CPU that executed most of your code and the GPU that rendered your pretty 3D graphics. But there were a lot of smaller bits too: a chip called the northbridge handled all communication between the CPU, GPU, and RAM, while the southbridge handled communication between the northbridge and other interfaces like USB or SATA. Separate controller chips for things like USB ports, Ethernet ports, and audio were also often required if this functionality wasn't already integrated into the southbridge itself.

As chip manufacturing processes have improved, it's now possible to cram more and more of these previously separate components into a single chip. This not only reduces system complexity, cost, and power consumption, but it also saves space, making it possible to fit a high-end computer from yesteryear into a smartphone that can fit in your pocket. It's these technological advancements that have given rise to the system-on-a-chip (SoC), one monolithic chip that's home to all of the major components that make these devices tick.

The fact that every one of these chips includes what is essentially an entire computer can make keeping track of an individual chip's features and performance quite time-consuming. To help you keep things straight, we've assembled this handy guide that will walk you through the basics of how an SoC is put together. It will also serve as a guide to most of the current (and future, where applicable) chips available from the big players making SoCs today: Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia, Texas Instruments, Intel, and AMD. There's simply too much to talk about to fit everything into one article of reasonable length, but if you've been wondering what makes a Snapdragon different from a Tegra, here's a start.

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Located on a rather nondescript industrial estate in a suburb of Leicester you'll find an equally nondescript warehouse unit. Nestled amongst the usual glut of logistics companies and scrap metal merchants, the building in question once housed a firm that was poised to dramatically alter the world of interactive entertainment as we know it, and worked with such illustrious partners as Sega, Atari, Ford and IBM.

That company was Virtuality. Founded by a dashing and charismatic Phd graduate by the name of Jonathan D. Waldern, it placed the UK at the vanguard of a Virtual Reality revolution that captured the imagination of millions before collapsing spectacularly amid unfulfilled promises and public apathy.

The genesis of VR begins a few years prior to Virtuality's birth in its grey and uninspiring industrial surroundings. The technology was born outside of the entertainment industry, with NASA and the US Air Force cooking up what would prove to be the first VR systems, intended primarily for training and research. The late '80s and very early '90s saw much academic interest in the potential of VR, but typically, it took a slice of Hollywood hokum to really jettison the concept into the global consciousness and create a new buzzword for the masses.

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New submitter shuttah writes "Robert X. Cringely, author of the 1992 influential book Accidental Empires , will be republishing and updating (including pictures and new chapters) the now twenty year-old book via the launch of a new blog also by the author. Cringeley tells us, 'So next month I'll be starting a second blog with its own URL just for Accidental Empires. I, Cringely will continue right here as ever (no changes at all), but on the book blog I will over several months publish — a chapter or so at a time — the entire 100,000-word book for the world to read, free of charge.' The book was also the basis for Cringley's 1996 TV miniseries Triumph of the Nerds released by PBS."


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