A chiplet is a small, self-contained block of integrated circuits that performs a specific function. Chip designers combine multiple chiplets with different uses into a single chip package. This type of chip package is similar to a System-on-a-Chip (SoC) processor, which combines several distinct components into a single chip. However, an SoC is manufactured as one piece, while chiplets are manufactured separately and combined later.
Monolithic SoC designs combine every element into a single piece of silicon — the CPU, GPU, memory, I/O controllers, and other components. In a chiplet design, each chiplet is designed and manufactured independently, then combined into a chip package in a later step. High-speed interconnects join each chiplet in a chip package to allow data to flow between them as if they were part of a single chip.
Chiplet-based designs provide several important benefits over normal SoC designs:
- Modularity — Chip designers can create chiplets for specific functions and combine them as necessary in a chip package. Specific chiplets within a design can receive updates without the entire chip receiving a redesign. Chip designers can even integrate chiplets from other manufacturers into their designs.
- Improved Yields — The smaller individual chiplets are easier to manufacture at scale than large, complex SoC chips. A single defect in an SoC may cause the entire chip to be unusable, but a manufacturer can test each individual chiplet to confirm it works before adding it to a chip package.
- Multiple Processes — Each chiplet within a chip package can be manufactured using the most suitable process for that chiplet. Components like CPU and GPU cores may use an advanced fabrication process that maximizes performance, while other components whose performance is not as critical can use an older, less expensive process.
- Improved Performance and Efficiency — Chip designers can optimize a chip package for specific tasks by changing the chiplets it uses. For example, a chip package optimized for graphics performance would include more high-power GPU cores than another chip of the same family designed for power efficiency, even though the other chiplets in the package would be identical.
NOTE: As of 2023, most major processor manufacturers have started using chiplets in some of their processor designs, including Intel, AMD, and Apple.