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Difference between MCU and SoC

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  • Last Updated : 08 Sep, 2022
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System on Chip (SoC) is a newer term with many interpretations & definitions, and its meaning can change over time, but the micro-controller unit (MCU) term has a clear definition and scope, refined from decades of use. Documentation frequently uses these two terms interchangeably, but most industry veterans believe the two terms are not synonymous with one another. They are part of the larger embedded system market with many similarities, but it is important to understand the scopes and purposes of SoCs and MCUs.

1. Micro-controller unit (MCU): A Micro-controller is a small computer on a single Integrated Circuit (IC) that contains a processor core, memory, programmable input/output (I/O) peripherals, timers, counters, etc. It provides only minimal memory, interfaces, and processing power. The peripherals included on the micro-controller are less specific than SoC packages. MCUs are typically used for small embedded control systems or control applications and is sometimes abbreviated as µC, uC or MCU.

2. System on Chip (SoC): SoC is a less well-defined term. It is a single chip package that does everything that previously required multiple chips. A SoC is typically an encapsulation of one or more of CPUs, memory, micro-controllers, DSPs, accelerators, and supporting hardware; however, it does not adhere to any standards regarding its containing circuitry. An SoC is intended for applications with requirements that are too complex for a single MCU to handle. There might be a number of micro-controllers in a SoC. It is more like a complete computer system on a single chip, capable of performing complex tasks with higher resource requirements. It is sometimes abbreviated as SoC or SOC. includeDifferences between MCU and SoC are as follows: 

Contains a single chip with nonspecific peripheralsContains a single chip with more specific peripherals
Encapsulation of fewer and limited peripheralsEncapsulation of many peripherals
Intended for small control applications with low complexityIntended for applications with more requirements and higher complexity
Costs less than a System on ChipMore expensive than Micro-controllers
No Operating System (OS)Operating System (OS) included
Low power consumptionHigher power consumption and varies widely between applications
Provides value by minimizing costProvides value by maximizing functionality
Memory is minimal, often measured in KBMore memory is included, can be MB or GB
External storage varies from KB to MB via Flash or EEPROMExternal storage varies from MB to TB via Flash, SSD, or HDD
Computing width is 4-bit, 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bitComputing width is 16-bit, 32-bit, 64-bit
Applications include programmable thermostats, household appliances, and industrial instrumentsApplications includes smartphones, network routers, and game console emulators
Products include Microchip Technology PIC, 8051, Atmel MCUsProducts include Cypress PSoC, Qualcomm Snapdragon
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