What is the SoC chip and why is it important for your smartphone

Technology advances, and with it, component designations change. Like SoC, an acronym that identifies the evolution of processors.

They were once known as "processors" and few had any doubts about what they were. For a few years now, we've been talking about SoCs incessantly, and not for fashion or an exercise in style, but because of the evolution that has allowed smartphones and tablets to mutate into increasingly powerful and efficient products.

Once the cell phone, then the PDAs, the first smartphones, and finally today's smartphones, multi-faceted products that, with a touch on the screen, can be transformed in no time into anything you need, from a simple communication tool to a miniature gaming console. The credit goes to the giant strides made by technology in the space of a few years, time in which "simple" processors have evolved to become SoCs or, if you prefer, System on a Chip, or, as the school translation suggests in Italian, Systems in a Chip, in other words, real all-round jokers as big as a coin.

What is the SoC

A SoC is therefore an integrated circuit that includes first of all the "old" processor or CPU, then the unit of calculation within which there are cores or those who perform calculations. Inside the SoC there are then other components that before were separated as the GPU 8the graphics processor) and the modem 8today also 5G). Apple's new M1 SoCs even have RAM in them.

The miniaturized solution proposed by SoCs offers several advantages: first of all, it saves space, which pocket technology manufacturers use to make smaller and lighter objects; a higher energy efficiency, which allows a greater autonomy for the same battery; a significant gain in performance, since the components can exchange data and information more quickly; finally, a saving in production costs, thanks to the elimination of some components that can be done without due to miniaturization. The other side of the coin, however, is that with the same SoC, all devices are now a bit 'all the same.

SoC by Qualcomm

Qualcomm is the world leader in the production of SoC. The name to keep in mind for smartphones, tablets, wearable devices, and recently laptops is Snapdragon, which as far as the first two product categories are concerned is followed by a three-digit number.

The first number identifies the family or series, and can give an indication of the "carat" of that SoC, while the remaining two numbers, for simplicity, can be understood as progressive.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 200/400/600 series generally belong to the low end, both in terms of performance and industrial costs, which - needless to say - reflexively affect the final price for the buyer.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 700 series span a very wide range, from medium to medium-high as the last two numbers increase.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 series represent the American company's Olympus, so they usually equip high-end Android smartphones. The flagship mobile platform for 2021 is, for example, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 which is used in "super top of the line" or, as they are called nowadays, "premium smartphones".

SoCs from MediaTek

MediaTek is the SoC manufacturer that in terms of variety of offerings and value for money is considered Qualcomm's main competitor.

The range of the Chinese manufacturer is almost boundless, and wanting to limit ourselves for brevity to smartphones we must mention the families Mediatek Dimensity 800, for the mid-range,  Dimensity 900 and Dimensity 1000, for the medium-high and Dimensity 1100 and 1200 for the high-end.

Then there are the MediaTek Helio P/G/X, typically aimed at low and mid-range products.

Apple's Bionic SoCs

Finally there's Apple, which has been designing the SoCs that have made the fortunes of the iPhone and iPad for several years now. Usually the unveiling of a new member of the Bionic family coincides with the unveiling of new iPhones or new iPads.

Unlike the manufacturers discussed above, Apple doesn't produce "A-series" SoCs and "B-series" SoCs: they are all super high-performance, in line with the company's philosophy. As a result, they are identified with a progressive number that indicates the generation.

The powerful SoC that for example equips the current iPhone 12 but also the fourth-generation iPad Air is the Apple A14 Bionic, while the SoC of the year before, namely the one of the iPhone 11, was trivially the Apple A13 Bionic.

The new iPad Pro 2021, on the other hand, uses the M1 SoC that Apple created primarily for computers, after ditching the "old" Intel processors: the 13-inch Macbook Air and MacBook Pro laptops, Mac mini and the new iMacs. And this makes us clearly understand one thing: SoCs are no longer the "B-series processors" for cell phones, but they are the future of electronics.