The demands on computer chips and processors these days is staggering. Even the simplest computer is required to complete complex tasks simultaneously. Basic emails can now contain photos, image files, and even multimedia audio and video.
More and more is being asked of computers, and the space available inside a computer's chips and processors is shrinking, creating an inverse relationship of stronger demand for functionality on less and less physical space. The physical limits of silicon and chips themselves will eventually create an end game for this sort of progress. To this end, some manufacturers are pursuing the Grant Unified Theory of computing known as System-on-a-Chip, or SOC. SOC combines all the various components of a computer onto a single chip.
The benefits of SOC are self-evident: Everything needed to run the computer is contained in that one chip - the smaller the better. This includes the computer's operating system, electronic functions, memory of all varieties, timers, interfaces like USB and FireWire, voltage regulators, timers, microprocessors, and basic utility software applications. The chip has all that is needed to run even detailed computer functions.
The uniqueness of SOC is that it is both software and hardware. The enemies of SOC, though, are time and money. It takes much more of both to manufacture one SOC than it does to make a large handful of traditional chips, mainly because the procedures and the materials needed are still relatively new and unfamiliar. This is likely change, however, as more and more chipmakers discover the utility of SOC and its possibilities.
The main obstacle to a final version of SOC continues to be the laws of physics. When you start mixing hardware and software, the demands on the chip and its silicon can be tremendous, sometimes conflicting or impossible with current technology. Alternative surface areas are being created, ones that don't have the same space or conductivity requirements as solid silicon. Advancements in nanotechnology are making these alternative surface areas possible. In the end, SOC might not be so far around the corner.