System on a Chip

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What Does System on a Chip Mean?

A system on a chip (SoC) combines the required electronic circuits of various computer components onto a single, integrated chip (IC). SoC is a complete electronic substrate system that may contain analog, digital, mixed-signal or radio frequency functions. Its components usually include a graphical processing unit (GPU), a central processing unit (CPU) that may be multi-core, and system memory (RAM).

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Because SOC includes both the hardware and software, it uses less power, has better performance, requires less space and is more reliable than multi-chip systems. Most system-on-chips today come inside mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

Techopedia Explains System on a Chip

An SoC is specially designed to meet the standards of incorporating the required electronic circuits of numerous computer components onto a single integrated chip. Instead of a system that assembles several chips and components onto a circuit board, the SoC fabricates all necessary circuits into one unit.

The challenges of an SoC include higher prototyping and architecture costs, more complex debugging and lower IC yields. IC is not cost effective and takes time to manufacture. However, this is likely to change as the technology continues to be developed and employed.

An SoC usually contains various components such as:

  • Operating system
  • Utility software applications
  • Voltage regulators and power management circuits
  • Timing sources such as phase lock loop control systems or oscillators
  • A microprocessor, microcontroller or digital signal processor
  • Peripherals such as real-time clocks, counter timers and power-on-reset generators
  • External interfaces such as USB, FireWire, Ethernet, universal asynchronous receiver-transmitter or serial peripheral interface bus
  • Analog interfaces such as digital-to-analog converters and analog-to-digital converters
  • RAM and ROM memory
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Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor
Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.