Both SOC and CPU are data processing systems. And that close relationship leads many people to mistakenly believe that they are equivalent.
An SoC integrates, among other things, a CPU. So while the CPU is the most important computing component, you could say that an SoC is more than just a CPU. But what is an SoC? So is an SoC better than a CPU?
In this article, we are going to solve this and other questions.
CPU Features vs. SoC features
|The only component inside this microchip is the CPU itself. The rest will be found on other chips.||In addition to the CPU, there are other components integrated into the same integrated circuit (for example the GPU).|
|The power consumption of the system (CPU + other external components) is usually higher.||SoCs tend to achieve higher power efficiency by integrating multiple components into a single space.|
|The sum of its separate components takes up more space than SoCs.||The reduced size is achieved thanks to the integration of a single chip.|
|The modularity of the components allows individual replacement of those that are defective.||If any of the components built into the SoC fail, the only solution is to replace the entire SoC.|
|The preferred use of large computer equipment.||Preferably used on mobile devices.|
What is CPU?
CPU stands for Central Processing Unit. For us to understand each other, the CPU is the brain of any computer equipment.
The CPU does not specialize in anything, but it is very versatile and knows how to do everything. Hence, it is common to see that there are other secondary processing units to perform certain specific tasks, such as the GPU (for graphics processing), sound chips, Wi-Fi, etc. These microchips usually do better than the task for which they were created, so the CPU, despite also knowing how to do it, delegates certain things to the other components and is in charge of coordinating them.
It is as if the CPU were an orchestra conductor who knew how to play all the instruments. But usually, the violinist will play the violin better than him.
What is the SoC?
SoC means the system on a chip (System on a Chip), which already gives a pretty clear clue about the definition of SoC.
The SoC integrates not only the CPU but also other additional components, all of them unified on a single chip.
Returning to the simile of the conductor, a CPU is the conductor, while an SoC is a small or large orchestra, including but not limited to the conductor.
Differences between CPU and SoC
Once established what each one is, let’s delve into their differences.
SoC architecture vs. CPU architecture
With the mission of processing information, in addition to controlling other components, the architecture of the CPU is based on an integrated circuit (the conductor) separated from the other components of the computer (the musicians).
In contrast, the SoC integrates on a single microchip not only the CPU but also one or more additional components (the conductor and part or all of the orchestra he leads).
SoC vs. CPUs
Due to their marked differences, the preferable use of one or the other (integrated components in an SoC or separate) is determined by the purpose of the system.
If it is a phone, a smartwatch, a tablet, or any other type of mobile device, the SoC seems the most suitable, since it occupies less space and has greater energy efficiency, which helps to increase battery life.
In the case of a desktop computer, by having more space and power, keeping the CPU separate from the rest of the components can help achieve more power (the space also helps to better dissipate the heat generated).
Laptops would come to be located at a more or less intermediate point between both worlds, having much more space than, for example, a smartphone, but much less than a desktop computer. In addition, they have much higher capacity batteries than most mobile devices, but they have a battery after all, in contrast to the direct connection to the electrical network that desktop computers use to power themselves.
So what is the best option in these cases? Each manufacturer approaches this search for a balance between power and energy efficiency in its own way. Most use SoC, although keeping some components out of it.
Nor should we forget that, nowadays, even washing machines have a processor. In these cases, the SoC is often used, as it facilitates the integration of a fully functional computer system in a small space. In addition, the need for a lot of power in these cases is rare and current SoCs achieve great performance.
Do all desktop computers mount CPU instead of SoC?
Not all. But not only that but most of the microprocessors of the last generations could be considered SoCs, not CPUs. How can that be? It happens that, more and more, processors try to be all-in-one by mounting components such as a GPU (graphics processor) on a single chip.
But, in search of more graphics power, a computer with graphics power will have an accelerator card with its own GPU, so the computer will use this when required, instead of the one with the processor integrated.
The same will happen when looking for better performance in a specific task that another isolated component will know how to do better. Let us remember that, although our orchestra conductor knows how to do everything, violinists know how to play the violin better.