A Deeper Explanation: CPU vs SoC

There are two different terms that we use when talking about the processing power behind computers and mobile devices: CPU and SoC. They’re both synonymous with the “brains” of said devices, and people judge the power and capabilities of that device based on how good that certain chip is. Though they’re used in similar ways, these are two completely different types of chips. Having a deep understanding of mobile technology requires having a deep understanding of the difference between a CPU and an SoC, so let’s clear up what these terms mean.

First off, CPU stands for Central Processing Unit. As its name suggests, it carries out the primary computations that your computer needs to function. The cases when a CPU is identified individually are when referring to the processing power behind computers. On the other side of the coin, we have the SoC. SoC stands for System on a Chip, and are found in mobile devices- phones/phablets and tablets. In the case of a computer, there’s room to place the CPU, GPU, RAM and other components where they can be easily accessed and replaced, but a pencil thin mobile device doesn’t quite have that luxury. Everything, CPU, GPU, RAM and other components, have to be squeezed onto one singular chip, so it’s like an entire system…. on a chip, hence the name.

Another key difference between CPU’s and SoC’s is the fact that an SoC can have multiple CPU’s on board. Some people will say that “this phone is powered by an octa-core processor.” They’re not saying that there’s a CPU on board with 8 cores, but rather, the combination of the multiple CPU’s make up the number 8. These can be clocked at different speeds; slower ones to handle the lighter tasks and  faster ones to handle the more demanding tasks, but that isn’t always the case.

These are some of the main differences between CPU’s and SoC’s. They really are two completely different things, but are both referred to as the driving force behind computers and mobile devices. Hopefully this clears up any confusion that you may have about these terms and stay tuned for more articles.