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What is an SoC? The integrated chip solution explained

The mobile world has long used SoCs (system on a chip) as the primary computing component inside its devices. But, with the Apple M-series and Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X Elite chip, it’s becoming even more prevalent on PCs. Here’s our explanation of just what an SoC is.

The concept of an SoC isn’t new but you’re seeing it being used more now, as it becomes used more widely. Previously, SoCs have often been incorrectly referred to as a “CPU” or, the colloquial term often used for CPUs, “processors”. Neither is a truly accurate description.

The reason SoC platforms are becoming more popular is that they align with the rise in manufacturers’ use of Arm chips, which uses this method rather than a combination of separate CPU, GPU and RAM components. If that’s why you’re here, or some other curious thread has led you to this explainer, you’re in luck. Let’s dive in.

What is an SoC?

The term SoC stands for system on a chip or system-on-chip. An SoC is an integrated circuit and it houses various components within a single platform. The platform will typically feature a central processing unit (CPU), internal memory (RAM) and storage as well as input and output ports (I/O). Some SoC will also feature a graphics processing unit (GPU), wireless connectivity and artificial intelligence (AI) components – such as SoCs from MediaTek, Apple and Qualcomm Snapdragon.

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The system-on-chip solution can offer performance, efficiency and space-saving benefits compared to systems that feature separate CPU, GPU, RAM and storage components. For example, such systems allow for the easy sharing of RAM and storage across the CPU and GPU, rather than requiring separate solutions for each. This also can give manufacturers greater control over how all the different components work with each other. Further, the space-saving element allows for use in thinner and lighter devices. However, having an SoC does prevent the replacement and upgrading of these components.

SoC platforms aren’t limited to just mobile phones and laptops, with handheld gaming devices, Internet of Things products, TVs, routers, streaming devices and more all featuring the technology.

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