System On A Chip

What is System on a Chip (SoC)?

System on a Chip or a SoC refers to the Integrated Circuit or an IC that is designed to include all, or most of the components of a computer processor on a single die.

Technically, a SoC is that which has the processors, interfaces, memory, controllers, DSPs, GPUs and more on a single chip.

It can be a Programmable System on a Chip or PSoC as well, which has a unique programmable hardware, such as a Field Programmable Gate Array or FPGA.

Understanding System on a Chip (SoC)

What is System on a Chip

System on a Chip refers to a set of processing units on one single die that are connected together.

Ideally, it is the SoCs rather than the CPUs alone that make the complex computers of today.

These relatively smaller chips that have everything that a computer needs to perform on a single die are used traditionally in those devices and embedded systems that are used for specific purpose such as:

Several high-performance processors also use SoC design techniques.

Typically, the SoCs are made up of general-purpose as well as special-purpose circuits.

The CPU cores can execute software instructions simultaneously and the specialized circuits such as the GPUs render the images and screen pixels.

These SoCs include a variety of components and follow a design flow that is aimed at developing different aspects such as:

There are lots of advantages offered by the SoC and its design which includes:

However, there are some significant downsides of the SoCs such as:

Still there are several good reasons to use the SoCs and some of the major ones are:

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With the kind of benefits offered, the future of the SoCs seems to be very bright and may find the most prominent, if not the only place, in the world of computing.


VLSI or Very Large Scale Integration and SoC design is considered to be the state-of-the-art concept which provides a platform that includes design, circuits, and automation within digital, analog, and mixed-signal systems.

Typically, VLSI-SoC explores the design and optimization of different embedded systems and 5G and 6G communication systems that are typically powered by CMOS or Complementary Metal Oxide-Semiconductor and beyond CMOS technologies.

Typically, the VLSI chip is made by integrating high-level components and gate-level sophistications in the circuits over and above the register, counter, multiplier, Arithmetic Logic Unit or ALU and floating point operation unit.

Typical of the VLSI design life cycle, there are several stages involved in the SOC design which involves IP cores and more such as:

There are different embeds that are included in the SoC for the VLSI design such as:

Each of these embeds are to be made in different ways as explained hereunder.

The multi-processor or dual core general-purpose processors need the following:

While embedding the accelerator, the following things are to be kept in mind:

While embedding the single-purpose processors, it is needed to make sure that it should be capable of the following:

While embedding the ASIPs or Application Specific Instruction Set Processors it must be made sure that the processor comes with an instruction set that is designed for particular type of applications on a VLSI chip. This can be any kind of processor such as:

While embedding microcontroller cores, it must be made sure that it belongs to any of the following:

While embedding the DSP cores, it should be made sure that it is TMS320Cxx, OMAP1 Tiger SHARC 5600xx, and PNX 1300 or 15002 that should be capable of the following as well:

Typically, a SoC in VLSI typically needs to have all of the necessary digital as well as analog circuits, processors and software.

SoC Examples

One of the most common examples of a SoC is Qualcomm, which is the largest provider of smartphone SoCs. The Exynos SoC from the house of Samsung is also a good example just as the Tensor G2 SoC from Google and the Helio range of SoCs from MediaTek.

Some of the most common devices that use SoCs are gaming consoles such as Xbox and Playstation, Raspberry Pi computers, smartphones, tablets, and others.

These devices use different types of SoCs such as:

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A few other examples of SoCs include:

What are the Components of SoC?

In spite of its small size, the SoC of a smartphone typically connects and controls functional components in it such as the CPU, GPU, ISP, DSP and more.

The different components that are typically found on a SoC are as follows:

Does Intel Have a SoC?

Yes, Intel do have and use SoCs in a few specific areas such as their SoC FPGA or the Field Programmable Gate Array ecosystem, which is based on ARM processor architecture, and most of the Intel Next Unit of Computing or NUCs are based on a System on a Chip rather than a chipset as well.

Some of the examples of Intel SoC FPGAs are:

As for the NUCs, there is a large variety of models available and they come with Intel Core i3, i5, i7, or i9 processors of different generations from 5th the generation to the 13th generation.

There are also a few NUC models with other Intel processors such as Celeron, Pentium or Atom in them. You will also find a couple of different Legacy Intel NUCs with SoC and Intel Core i3 or i5 processor.

Do Smartphones Have a SoC?

Yes, typically, the smartphones, and even the tablets and wearables, do not use processors as such. Instead, they all use a SoC.

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Ideally, it will need a lot of space on the semiconductor die to have all of the necessary hardware components separately installed on it which includes the CPU, GPU, memory, modem and lots more.

Therefore, incorporating all these items and features on a single die will help significantly in keeping the overall footprint of the phones low.

Apart from that, combining the different components of the smartphones required to operate into a single chip not only saves on the space but also on other aspects such as:

So, a SoC is used in smartphones. The different components that the SoC connects include:

In short, the SoC acts as the brain of the smartphones and handles everything from the graphics performance to 5G connectivity and from the operating system to detecting the power off button when pressed.

SoC vs CPU

Questions & Answers:

Is RAM a Part of SoC?

Yes, RAM or the system memory is a part of a SoC since it is one of the major functional components that make the system work.

Is SoC a Hardware or Software?

A SoC is typically a hardware which contains all the functional units which includes the processor, graphics card, modems, flash storage and the communication subsystem that connects, controls, directs and interfaces between the functional modules.

Is a GPU a SoC?

Typically, the SoCs are much smaller in design and the GPU, just like the CPU, is just another component on this small chip.

Is SoC Analog or Digital?

Typically, a SoC is described as digital because the focus on the design and verification of a system is primarily digital.

However, due to the AMS components, a SoC may be analog, digital, and mixed. Sometimes it may also contain Radio Frequency of RF functions for communications.


As you can see from this article, the System on a Chip is very useful to use in the smaller devices.

It is even considered as the next step next the CPUs and may consume the customary CPUs totally.

Ideally, the fact that Intel Ivy Bridge and AMD Llano CPUs have different parts on the same chip at least points towards it.