Stands for "System On a Chip." An SoC (pronounced "S-O-C") is an integrated circuit that contains all the required circuitry and components of an electronic system on a single chip. It can be contrasted with a traditional computer system, which is comprised of many distinct components. A desktop computer, for example, may have a CPU, video card, and sound card that are connected by different buses on the motherboard. An SoC combines these components into a single chip.
The primary advantage of a system on a chip is the reduction of physical space required for the system. By merging multiple components together, SoCs can be used to create fully functional systems that are a fraction of the the size of their traditional counterparts. Examples include smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices, such as smartwatches. A smartwatch SoC, for example, may include a primary CPU, graphics processor, DAC, ADC, flash memory, and voltage regulator. All of these components fit on a single chip roughly the size of a quarter.
The size of an SoC is also its greatest disadvantage. Since all the components are compressed into a single integrated circuit, they are limited in their storage capacity and processing power. For example, a high-end desktop computer with a dedicated graphics card and SSD will easily outperform a smartphone from the same generation. However, advances in mobile processing technology enable modern smartphones to provide similar performance to high-end computers from only a few years ago.