SoC, embedded systems, microcontrollers, microprocessors... I'm always really confused.

So my current understanding is:

  1. Microprocessors/CPUs, generally speaking, are the computing core and are the base for everything else
  2. Microcontrollers = microprocessors + memory + other peripherals like UART, USB, CAN; can be a standalone device
  3. Embedded systems is microcontrollers programmed to do specific tasks, so normally not general-purpose
  4. SoC is microcontrollers + advanced components like GPU, more general-purpose compared to embedded systems; has all the ability of a computer (can run OS like Linux), just inferior in performance

Please point out if my ideas are right and add anything you want!


closed as primarily opinion-based by Turbo J, Bimpelrekkie, Bence Kaulics, Lorenzo Donati, pjc50 Oct 9 '17 at 14:40

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with: 2) microcontrollers come in many forms. Can be without periferals, no uC can work standalone, it needs input and output devices to do anything useful. 3) there are embedded systems which are general purpose. The software defines the task not the hardware. 4) Not all SoC have a uC, most have a proper CPU. Is it a system? Does it fit on a chip? If both yes that makes it a SoC. The name SoC does not define what needs to be on the chip. \$\endgroup\$ – Bimpelrekkie Oct 9 '17 at 13:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of what really are: Microcontroller (uC), System on Chip (SoC), and Digital Signal Processor (DSP)? \$\endgroup\$ – Colin Oct 9 '17 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Embedded" only means that the computer is considered to be a part of the machine that it controls and, that it serves no other purpose. You can "embed" anything from an 8-bit AVR to a full Windows PC. \$\endgroup\$ – Solomon Slow Oct 9 '17 at 15:13

Embedded System usually contain multiple chips inlcuding main microcontroller and some basic front-end (ADCs Op-Amps, Comparators, Voltage Regulators). By embedded system You can describe a piece of hardware.

System on Chip is basically an Embedded System but fully integrated on one Chip. SoC can contain both digital and analog circuits and sometimes even allow for connection configuration between the system elements like in Cypress PSoC chips for example.


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