System on a Chip

What is System on a Chip? How does it differ from a desktop CPU

From utilizing vacuum-tube amplifiers to ship management and processing alerts to integrating the CPU on a single IC, the computational energy and design have come a great distance. These advances have taken one other leap with the event of System-on-a-chip.

System-on-a-chip or SoC combines a number of {hardware} elements and the controlling software program on a single chip. This virtually at all times contains a number of CPUs, reminiscence models, communication buses, energy administration controllers, I/O controllers, and even the GPU or APU.

Hence, it eliminates the necessity for separate {hardware} modules as required by the desktop CPU to manage and talk. But there may be nonetheless much more to an SoC that makes it the demand of the digital world.

In this information, we’re going to focus on the SoC and the way it varies from our common desktop CPU.

What is System on a Chip?


The digital world has seen a major discount within the measurement of the digital elements that we use now. From the usage of massive-sized computer systems to those that may be held in our fingers, built-in and scaled-down applied sciences have grow to be a boon for us.

However, miniaturization has been doable largely via the fast progress in processors utilized in them. The current CPUs, generally known as microprocessors, include the principle processing energy, or the mind, via the use of a single IC in a small area. And these are continued to improve much more.

The subsequent revolution got here with the manufacturing of a microcontroller that built-in the microprocessor, RAM, and Input/Output interfaces on a single chip. These microcontrollers might run particular purposes and applications without having extra {hardware} modules for reminiscence and different peripherals.

Now, we have now upped the sport even additional than the microcontroller with the discharge of the System on a chip. It is just like the microcontroller however with options past what a microcontroller possesses.

It incorporates virtually the whole lot a microcontroller has, such because the CPU, reminiscence, I/O controllers, and provides up superior buses, Graphics Unit, Wireless controllers, GPS, and lots of extra. It even consists of an Operating system that may drive a mess of purposes like a standard pc compared to a selected program operated by a microcontroller.

google tensor SoC
Source: Google (Tensor SoC)

One of the gadgets that consists of the SoC is the cell phone. All the duties, akin to taking images, calling, utilizing the web, working video games, and so forth., that you just do on the telephone are managed by a single SoC chip. Apart from the telephone’s chip, SoCs, the dimensions of a shirt’s button, are additionally present in wearable gadgets and may do virtually the whole lot {that a} telephone can.

Advancements in SoC, akin to Apple’s M1 chip, have now facilitated its use in computer systems at full performance.

How Does it Differ From a Desktop CPU?

Both the SoC and a CPU have the identical activity of finishing up the processing operation in a computing system. However, the SoC varies from the standard CPU by way of its incorporation of all required elements in a single silicon base. While we use CPUs for our common work, SoCs are platform or area-specific.

Furthermore, the SoC doesn’t at all times must have a CPU and may use a microcontroller or any application-specific unit instead of it. However, the desktop CPU is an integral a part of the standard PC, and virtually the whole lot revolves round it.

Apart from this, there are a number of variations between these two chips based mostly on the next options.


different size SoC

As all of the elements lie on a single chip, its measurement reduces considerably. Yes, the CPU can also be comparatively small, however due to it’s excessive computing energy the dimensions is way greater.

You can discover the SoC even the dimensions of a shirt button, as seen within the wearables. Thus, the SoC might be worthwhile for thinner and small-sized computing gadgets and when you must cowl additional area with different complimentary components.

Processing Capacity and Latency

Most SoCs are domain-specific, not like the overall computing of the desktop CPU. This makes the processing capability and effectivity of the SoC significantly better for that specific software.

Furthermore, the SoCs have built-in buses and cache reminiscence that communicates with all of the elements. This makes the knowledge move and retrieval a lot sooner within the SoC, decreasing the latency compared to the exterior buses included within the PC with a desktop CPU.

Power Usage

The SoCs require a lot lesser energy to hold out their processing and domain-specific performance. It is generally resulting from built-in circuitry and shorter wiring and connections.

Thus, one of many causes cellphones with SoC last more than a laptop computer with a standard CPU is their decrease energy consumption. And this has additionally led to a better worth for processing per energy required, resulting in an environment friendly chip.

But, having mentioned that, the SoCs nonetheless can’t outperform a few of the newest highly effective CPUs because of the limitation of their energy utilization capability.


replacing cpu

Since the SoC has built-in elements, you can’t take away or exchange the person half and use one other one. And it is usually fairly troublesome to interchange the entire SoC with a brand new one. For occasion, when a smartphone’s chip will get broken, you’ll have to get a brand new telephone generally.

However, you’ve got the choice to change the desktop CPU if it stops working. Or, you’ll be able to even get a extra highly effective processor to your PC whenever you wish to improve your system.

Talking about upgrades, you may also combine the CPU with different high-end elements, akin to GPUs, manually, bettering the general effectivity of the system. But, within the case of an SoC, the combination is made routinely, and also you can’t hand-pick what elements you want to to make use of for the improve.

Nevertheless, the power to make use of an SoC with out the necessity for any extra {hardware} and in a comparatively smaller space remains to be versatile for utilization in various sorts of computing gadgets. Regarding the desktop CPU, it’s fairly ineffective with out different elements.


Being an all-in-one know-how, the price of the System-on-a-Chip is way increased than a desktop CPU. But, if we glance into the price of the design per area and value per processing energy, it’s a lot cheaper. Furthermore, the SoC can be manufactured in bulk for a selected area, decreasing its value for that specific software.

Still, if you wish to use an SoC for general-purpose computing, it’s dear, making the standard desktop CPU the suitable selection for its decrease price.

While we talked in regards to the variations, and ideally the prevalence of SoCs, there can undoubtedly be curiosities about how they’re designed and their varieties. Let’s have a look at them beneath.

Types of System on a Chip

The System on a Chip is normally categorized into three varieties based mostly on the character of the elements it consists of.

Microprocessor-Based SoC

microprocessor based M1 chip

These System-on-a-chips are designed round a microprocessor. First, the CPU is included, and different components, akin to reminiscence, GPUs, WiFi, and so forth., are included into the chip.

One instance of Microprocessor-Based SoC is the Snapdragon chip utilized in cellphones. It consists of a Kryo CPU and is expanded with 3G/LTE, WiFi, a Camera Module, a USB controller, GPU, and so forth. Furthermore, Apple’s M1 chip can also be considered one of them.

Microcontroller-Based SoC

These SoCs are constructed through the use of a microcontroller as the principle processing unit. All different required options are added to work with the MCU.

CC2540 SoC, constructed by Texas Instruments, is designed through the use of an 8051 microcontroller, and elements akin to Bluetooth module, Battery and temperature monitor, USB interface, and so forth. are added to it.

Application-Specific SoC

Application-specific System-on-a-chip makes a speciality of a specific area as a substitute of common computing duties. Here, the processing unit carries out solely a selected activity, and the chip incorporates solely the required extra elements wanted in a specific space.

For occasion, the chips used to drive the wearables consists of the particular elements and software program to run health displays, time, and cell community in some. Similarly, an SoC for video processing might embody a controller devoted to picture compression, colour replica, and so forth.

Apart from this, protection electronics, communication in cars, IoTs, and so forth., are some particular purposes of SoC.

How is its Architecture Designed?

As the System-on-a-Chip is especially for area-specific computing, its structure and elements range from one to a different. Nevertheless, the fundamental platform and configuration stay the identical, specializing in 4 main performance: Control, Communication, Processing, and Memory.

Since all of the elements in an SoC act as a single unit, there must be the principle {hardware} that controls the logical operation and sign flows in all of them. This position is given to the microprocessor or microcontroller. It ensures that numerous computations are persevering with in parallel and that the method is clean with none conflicts.

However, the microprocessor’s cache is centralized to work with it solely and never for different elements. So, its structure is designed with a number of system buses, serial connections, point-to-point connections, and so forth., for devoted communication. These communication means are accountable for the switch of synchronization alerts, knowledge or handle switch, and management alerts.

design architecture of soc

For that goal, there are high-speed buses managed by the bus grasp, that are joined by bus bridges to permit sign switch throughout each part.

The subsequent architectural design parameter is the requirement of processing performance. The central processing is finished by the microprocessor or microcontroller. And different computational models are domain-specific. For occasion, an SoC for well being monitoring consists of specialised models to course of the alerts acquired from the human physique.

After the combination of all these models, the SoC requires distributed reminiscence system for cache storage, non permanent knowledge, in addition to everlasting information. For this, there are a number of main sorts of reminiscence: Registers or DRAM for quick reminiscence retrieval, Non-volatile ROMs for everlasting storage of read-only knowledge of applications, and NVRAM for knowledge storage.

Finally, if it wants any additional {hardware} as per customized necessities, then these are built-in to be managed by the principle processor and communicated via the buses. And it may make use of the processing unit and reminiscence significantly appropriate for it.

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