System On Chip (SoC)

A system-on-chip (SoC) is the integration of functions necessary to implement an electronic system onto a single substrate and contains at least one processor. The only real difference between an SoC and a microcontroller is one of scale.

An SoC contains multiple processing parts, memory, modems, and other essential bits and pieces manufactured together in a single chip that’s soldered onto the circuit board.

The System-on-a-Chip is the brain of your smartphone.

Combining multiple components into a single chip saves on space, cost, and power consumption. SoCs connect to other components too, such as cameras, a display, RAM, flash storage, and much more. Essentially, an SoC is the brain of your smartphone that handles everything from the Android operating system to detecting when you press the power off button.

The list below contains the most common components that you will find inside a smartphone System-on-a-Chip. We’re going to cover a few of the most important ones later on in this article.

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU) — The “brains” of the SoC. Runs most of the code for the Android OS and most of your apps.
  • Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) — Handles graphics-related tasks, such as visualizing an app’s user interface and 2D/3D gaming.
  • Image Processing Unit (ISP) — Converts data from the phone’s camera into image and video files.
  • Digital Signal Processor (DSP) —  Handles more mathematically intensive functions than a CPU. Includes decompressing music files and analyzing gyroscope sensor data.
  • Neural Processing Unit (NPU) — Used in high-end smartphones to accelerate machine learning (AI) tasks. These include voice recognition and camera processing.
  • Video encoder/decoder — Handles the power-efficient conversion of video files and formats.
  • Modems — Converts wireless signals into data your phone understands. Components include 4G LTE, 5G, WiFi, and Bluetooth modems.


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