What is SoC? Mobile CPUs Explained

Did you ever wonder how the operator in your phone works? Your phone has a collection of different components that can do dozens of different things, and also the brain of all of these functions and components is the system on a Chip, SoC for short. When you call your friend across the country or navigate through a city using GPS, it may seem like magic or alien tech, but in reality, these feats of technology are all performed inside the SoC, which is designed and manufactured through the hard work of countless scientists and engineers.

Mobile phone processors or SoC are full-fledged computers today with components of a smartphone like the amount of GPU, CPUs, Image Signal Processes, Artificial Intelligence accelerators, Sensors, Cache memory, and Security. When you are in the market to buy your next phone, manufacturers generally publish the SoC or mobile phone processor which they are using. So it is important to know when buying a new phone yourself, but what is the situation here? Read our article about Mobile CPUs Explained to learn how CPUs work, and how to choose your next smartphone.

How do Smartphone CPUs Work?

Mobile manufacturers today have done a brilliant job of educating consumers like you about components of a smartphone like the amount of RAM, Storage, Types of Camera on phone, and additional features in software so we all can make an informed choice and compare phones before buying, but one component which many consumers may find tough to understand is the mobile phone processor.

Indeed we all have heard terms like dual-core, quad-core, or octa-core processor, but is a higher count of processors the only reason why a phone will work faster or last longer for you use and if you are looking to buy your next phone, how do you choose between two phones, both claiming to have an octa-core processor, or both claiming to have quad-core processor?

Let us find out in this very informative article, where we will build your knowledge about mobile phone processors and components, something which many people selling you those mobile phones may not even be aware of.

Components of a Computer

We will begin with something which all of you may be familiar with. What are the parts of a computer? CPU, RAM, ROM or Hard Disk, Motherboard, Graphics Card, Monitor, Keyboard, Mouse, and Power Source. If you are familiar with this, let us see in comparison to a computer, what are the components of a modern-day smartphone?

Component of a Smartphone

You do not need a mouse and keyboard to use any smartphone. The hard disk is swapped to what we call memory or storage, power has changed to the battery, RAM is still RAM, and we have a touch display that works as the monitor and the input device, which leaves the CPU, motherboard, graphics card, additional sensors and connectivity processing parts which are important for a mobile device. All are put together on a singular chip, called SOC, a system on a chip. Basically, almost a full computer on a chip.

Manufacturers Claiming SoC Names and Performance

Manufacturers today have helped us understand how to check for RAM, memory, and battery on a phone. It is simple, the higher the number the better it is. A phone with 12GB RAM is better than a phone with 8GB RAM. So, no problems there, not yet.

The problem is, mostly in marketing by manufacturers where they show what SoC they are using inside a phone. On the box or marketing material, you find Snapdragon from Qualcomm, Exynos from Samsung, Helio from Media tech or A14 from Apple, making you believe all phones with this particular SoC will work at the same performance level, which is not true. Let us see what is inside a modern SoC, and do not be worried about the names and terms, the idea is for you to understand what it does, more than the names.

What is inside SoC?

For example, let us consider the Snapdragon 888 SoC from Qualcomm. Every time the manufacturers tell you about an octa-core processor, they are referring to this part, and on the exact SoC of Snapdragon 888 we have 8 cores, hence it is called an octa-core processor. 1 prime core, 3 secondary cores, and 4 efficiency cores running at very low speed. It is done to ensure that the work for your processor is distributed well. So, if you are browsing the web, the prime core is not used. Instead, the efficiency cores will be used, which will consume less battery, and similarly, if you are gaming, then the prime core will be used to give you a higher performance.

Image Signal Processor

The next part is ISP or Image Signal Processor, this is processing all the data which is coming from your camera sensor, and making your pictures look great. Remember clicking that night mode picture and after milliseconds of a click, your picture comes out brighter? This fellow right here is making that happen for you.

Graphics Processing Unit

The third part is a graphics processing unit, mostly used for display and managing resolution on your screen, along with gaming. Also, encoding and decoding videos, along with any other graphics-intensive tasks.

Artificial Intelligence

The fourth part is meant to do all the artificial intelligence work on your phone. AI assistants like Siri, Bixby Google Assistant, camera and scene identification, getting the best settings automatically and adjusting battery life based on your usage.


The fifth part is for managing various sensors on your phone.


The sixth part is for managing security on your phone, as simple as your biometric scanning for locking and unlocking your phone.

5G/LTE Modem

The seventh part is for GSM and mobile networks.

WiFi/Bluetooth Connectivity

The eighth one is for Wi-Fi and other connectivity like NFC, Bluetooth, and lastly cache memory for all these components to use. So, now that your crash course on SoC is over, you would say the best thing to do while buying your next phone will be to buy the best SoC, but it does not work like that.

RAM Frequency is Shared by Manufacturers

SoC like the Snapdragon 888 enable many things, but it is not always that manufacturers will utilize all of its parts to their fullest performance. Let us take RAM for example. Remember 8GB RAM written on the box? One part of RAM, which we all are familiar with is the amount of RAM, 4, 8, 12, 16GB. The other thing which determines RAM’s performance is the frequency at which a RAM can run.

Have you ever seen clearly at what speed the 8GB RAM is? Because an 8GB RAM running at 1333MHz and 8GB RAM running at 2666 can make a massive difference on how your phones will open apps.

Reasons for not Using Best Components with SoC

On the other hand, an SoC like the Snapdragon 888 supports the latest format of the RAM which can operate at a speed of 3200MHz, but not every manufacturer will use a RAM running at 3200MHz on their phones.

It is like you have a car with an engine that can go up to 200kms/hr, but your car company did not add a part, hence it is now only going up to 180kms/hr. Why would they do that? In mobile phones the answer is, sometimes to simply cut costs, sometimes for better battery efficiency, it could also be unavailability of parts from the vendor, or their software (operating system) is not optimized to utilize all the features from that SoC.

Do not go by manufacturers publishing SoC names, or these many processors at high speed, and so much RAM. Simply use the existing tools to check how well your preferred phone performs on such tasks. Let us look at some of the tools to use when buying your next smartphone.

Mobile CPUs Explained – Antutu and Geekbench

As we have come to the end in our Mobiel CPUs Explained article, you must have learned a lot about CPUs, but before buying a new phone, you can check their rankings through some tools such as Antutu and Geekbench.

With the Antutu and Geekbench tools, you will be able to find what is the ranking of the phone which you are looking to buy based on the performance test done by several users. An overall score should give you a good indication of which phone from a speed and processing point of view will be a better phone to go for.

Hopefully, from here on you will always check to Antutu score before making your next mobile phone purchase and have a much better discussion with shops trying to sell you mobile phones stating their octa-core processors.

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