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Difference between MCU and SoC

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  • Last Updated : 07 Sep, 2020

System on Chip (SoC) in the term has a lot of definitions and also that will change over time but micro-controller unit (MCU) has a clear definition from decades. If we will see many documentation use these two terms inter changeably where as many also do not consider it as a correct way of using the two terms inter changeably. They both come in the area of embedded system but still with a lot similarities there is minimal differences between them which makes them distinct from each other.

When we think deeply we can point out some noteworthy differences between them. Just like comparing between a Car and a Bus where we will get same kind of answers like both have wheels, both carry passengers, both have engine, drivers drive them many more still when we will analyze more then we may find the difference between them. Same in case of MCU and SoC where there is some technical or non technical difference between them.

The distinction between an System on Chip and a micro-controller may be little bit confusing but not that much confusing. So lets start understanding the concept clearly by knowing the difference between both.

1. Micro-controller unit (MCU) :
Micro-controller is a small computer on a single Integrated Circuit (IC) which contains a processor core, memory, and programmable input/output (I/O) peripherals, Timers and Counters and so on. It provides only minimal memory, interfaces, processing power etc.

The peripherals included on the micro-controller are lot less specific than the System on Chip. It is focused on small embedded control systems or control applications. It 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 which does everything that used to take up multiple chips. A SoC is an encapsulation of one or more of CPUs, micro-controllers, DSPs, other accelerators or supporting hardware and also more specifically it does not have a specific standard about what type of circuitry it should contain. It is intended for applications with more requirements and more complex. There might be a number of micro-controllers in a SoC.

It is more like a complete computer system on a single chip which capable to perform complex tasks which have higher resource requirement. It is sometimes abbreviated as SoC or SOC.

Difference between MCU and SoC :

01.MCU contains single chip with less specific peripherals.SoC contains single chip with more specific peripherals.
02.It is the encapsulation of less and limited peripheral.It is the encapsulation of more number of peripherals.
03.It is intended for small control applications with less complexity.It is intended for applications with more requirements and more complexity.
04.Micro-controllers cost is less than the cost of System on Chip.System on Chip cost is more than the cost of Micro-controllers.
05.No Operating System (OS) in MCU.SOCs can be MPU or MCU based. A compact OS is more likely if there is an OS.
06.Its power consumption is low.Its power consumption depends on applications.
07.It provides value by minimizing cost.It provides value by maximizing functionality.
08.MCU memory is often in KB or less and sometimes low MB.SoC memory is often varies from MB to GB.
09.Its typical external storage varies from KB to MB and those are Flash, EEPROM.Its typical external storage varies from MB to TB and those are Flash, SSD, HDD.
10.Its computing width are 4-bit, 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit.Its computing width are 16-bit, 32-bit, 64-bit.
11.Its application example includes programmable thermostat, household appliances etc.Its application example includes smartphones and other specific applications.
12.Its product examples include Microchip technology PIC, 8051, Atmel MCUs.Its product examples include Cypress PSoC, Qualcomm Snapdragon.

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