“We’ve got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space. It was holding us back from a number of things we wanted to put into the iPhone. It was fighting for space with camera technologies and processors and battery life. And frankly, when there’s a better, modern solution available, it’s crazy to keep it around.” – Dan Riccio, Senior Vice President of Apple’s Hardware Engineering division, during the launch of the iPhone 7 back in 2016. Looks like times are surely changing.
Smartphones have traditionally sported SoCs, which stands for System-on-Chip, at their hearts consisting of all the basic hardware required for the phone to run including the processor, GPU, RAM, storage etc. The reason SoCs were adopted is that they take up much lesser space which is a basic necessity in a smartphone due to size constraints. However, as smartphones keep getting more and more powerful, the need to include more components such as larger batteries, multiple cameras, and cameras with large sensor sizes is increasing, but the overall form-factor of a smartphone needs to be maintained at a manageable size.
This is where SiPs or a System-in-Package comes into the picture. While SiPs aren’t new, the usage of this technology in smartphones is, as it wasn’t until Qualcomm very recently launched its Snapdragon SiP 1 chipset which made its debut in Asus’ latest phones launched in Brazil, the Zenfone Max Shot and Max Plus M2, that this technology was heard of on a large scale. The Apple Watch’s “S” series chips, for example, are SiPs since the space constraint in a watch is very high, but not a lot of people are aware of this fact.
What is an SiP?
SiP, as stated earlier, stands for System-in-Package. What this essentially means is that all the major components that assist in the working of the phone are integrated into a single package which is then soldered onto the motherboard. While one may argue that an SoC is also exactly the same, the main difference lies in the manufacturing process as well as the physical size and space occupied by them.
How is an SiP different from SoC?
Since an SoC is basically all components on an IC (Integrated Circuit), every component is manufactured on the same manufacturing process. Which means, when we say that the Snapdragon 855 is based on the 7nm manufacturing process, it means that the CPU, GPU, RAM etc. are all manufactured on the same process as the entire SoC is manufactured using just one single die.
For those of you who are unaware of the process of manufacturing of these chips, the circuitry is mapped onto a Silicon die which is then converted to a chip using various processes. An SoC is made using just one single die and hence the manufacturing process of every component remains the same. This takes up more space as the various ICs are placed next to each other on the PCB and are spread over a wider area.
On the other hand, the SiP does not contain all the components in one single IC but instead has multiple chips stacked on top of one another. This saves space as the ICs need not be spread across the PCB, and as the chips themselves have extremely small thicknesses, stacking them up does not increase the overall thickness by much. What this also means, is that since the SiP is not just a single chip, the individual ICs are manufactured using separate dies which means that every part of the chip can be manufactured using a different process. Let’s try to explain this using a simple analogy.
Let’s say that an SoC is a row of individual houses in a colony. Each house is built in the same way, next to one another. The space occupied by these houses is a lot since they’re spread across a colony next to one another. On the other hand, let’s assume that an SiP is like an apartment building, with each flat built one on top of the other. There’s a lot of space saved since the space required on the ground (on the motherboard, in case of the chip) is much lesser compared to that of individual houses in a row.
What are the benefits of SiPs?
As we all know, smartphone brands are cramming in two, three, four, heck even five cameras in a smartphone which requires a lot of space, due to which, the battery size needs to be reduced or the overall size of the device needs to be increased to accommodate the extra parts. In some cases, vital components like the headphone jack need to be removed to make way for a different component (or at least that’s what a certain fruity brand says).
Not just smartphones, but SiPs can be a huge boon to smartwatches as battery life is one of the biggest cons of having a smartwatch and due to SiPs occupying lesser space, manufacturers can fit in larger batteries in the same form factor.
For now, SiPs are still in a very early stage and the two smartphones that sport them are exorbitantly priced, so it’s surely not something that can be embraced right away. It’s a work-in-progress for the future and surely a step in the right direction if it allows for more space inside our electronics and who knows, maybe one day, we will all get our beloved friend ‘jack’ back!