What is System on Chip [ SoC ] and is it Different from CPU?

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People often confuse these two words and also use them interchangeably. While that is fairly okay, the two mean different things. In this article, we will be answering the question of what is an SoC and also try to differentiate the two for better understanding going forward.

What is an SoC – System On Chip

SoC, also known as System on Chip is the integration of various components into one chip while also shrinking the size drastically to fit in smaller devices. Devices like smartphones and smartwatches have an SoC which combines various components into one small chip so as to be able to fit into the device while leaving enough space for other components like the battery. Asides having an onboard CPU, an SoC typically has a GPU, memory, USB controller, wireless radio like 3G, 4G, WiFi etc and power management circuits.

The System on Chip name was derived from the fact that the chip contains basically a whole system which requires only a power source and it’s good to go. SoC like i said earlier is also a lot smaller than a CPU which has been made that way to be able to fit in smaller devices.

What is the Difference Between a CPU and SoC?

CPU is just a part of an SoC while SoC has a CPU alongside with other components. A CPU is also a lot bigger than an average SoC. While a computer can be built with just an SoC, same can’t be said for the CPU as the CPU is just an advanced and really fast calculator crunching numbers. It still needs memory to get the numbers from, RAM to storage number it’s currently processing and Radio signals in order to be able to connect to the internet. All these, along with the CPU have been brought together and reduced in size in order to be able to make the SoC.

A Typical SoC comprises of the following:

– CPU
– GPU
– ROM (also known as storage)
– RAM
– Modem (also known as connectivity which includes WiFi, 3G, 4G, 5G etc)
– USB Controller
– Power Management Circuits.

These are just the ones that are pretty much on an average SoC, some others may include things like sensors depending on if the device using the SoC needs it or not. So in a nutshell, CPU is just part of the SoC while SoC embodies both the CPU and other various components in other to make it a full system that is on a chip.

SoCs can be found on devices like smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, smart speakers etc. Basically, any small device that needs the power of a full system but doesn’t have the space to fit all the different components of a system.

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