System-on-Module vs. System-on-Chip: What's the Difference?

Choosing between SOMs or SoCs is an important choice for your project. Explore the benefits of each and how they can be leveraged to meet your specific design requirements.

Published on April 25, 2024

System-on-Module vs. System-on-Chip: What's the Difference?

In embedded systems design, the choice between a System-on-Module (SOM) and a System-on-Chip (SoC) can significantly influence the efficiency, cost, and scalability of engineering projects. This blog post dives into the distinctions between SOMs and SoCs, helping electrical engineers, embedded system designers, and technical product managers to determine which solution best fits their specific hardware project needs, particularly in sectors like IoT and AI.

Introduction to Integrated Circuits in Embedded Systems

Embedded systems rely heavily on integrated circuits (ICs) to perform their functions. These systems are at the heart of many modern electronic applications, from simple household appliances to complex industrial machinery. Two common forms of ICs in these applications are System-on-Module (SOM) and System-on-Chip (SoC). Each offers unique benefits and limitations depending on the application's requirements. Choosing the right type can significantly affect project outcomes, impacting everything from production cost to final product functionality.

What is a System-on-Chip (SoC)?

A System-on-Chip (SoC) integrates all necessary electronic circuits and components of a computer or other electronic systems onto a single chip. It may include a central processing unit (CPU), memory, input/output ports, and secondary storage – all on a single substrate or microchip, thus offering a complete digital computer on a chip. An SoC has everything needed to function except for a power supply. 

Common components of SoCs:

  1. Central Processing Unit (CPU): Typically includes one or more cores (microcontroller, microprocessor).
  2. Graphical Processing Unit (GPU): handles graphical computations.
  3. Memory: RAM, FLASH, EEPROM.
  4. Wireless communication interfaces: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth.
  5. External interfaces for wired communication: USB, Ethernet, HDMI.
  6. Analog/Digital Signal Processing: ADC (Analog to Digital Converter), DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) 
  7. Power Management: Voltage regulator and phase-locked loop (PLL)
  8. Peripheral Controllers: manage external devices like cameras, sensors, and other input/output systems.

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Common Applications and Advantages of SoCs

System-on-chips usage is dominant in:

  • Smartphones and tablets: These devices require compact and efficient components to manage their operations and extended battery life.
  • Consumer electronics: Enabling rapid development of innovative products with varying functionalities and performance levels.

The primary advantages of using SoCs include:

  1. Reduced power consumption: Integration of components on a single chip reduces the power required and extends the device's battery life.
  2. Cost efficiency and compact size: Manufacturing one chip instead of multiple modules reduces the material costs and simplifies the assembly process, which is crucial for devices like mobile phones and wearables.
  3. Improving reliability: conventional PCBs use hundreds of individual components, increasing potential failure points.
  4. Protecting the intellectual property (IP) of the product from reverse engineering and unauthorized replication.

A few examples of SoCs are Qualcomm’s Snapdragon series, Apple’s A-series, and Samsung’s Ezynos. 

What is a System-on-Module (SOM)?

A System-on-Module (SOM) is a board-level circuit that integrates a system function in a single module. It might include a microprocessor, SoC, memory, and sometimes even hardware peripherals. These modules offer a more flexible and modular approach to system design than SoCs. 

Common components of SOMs include: 

  1. Central Processing Unit (CPU): often an ARM-based processor for low-power applications or x86 for higher computational needs (microcontroller, microprocessor).
  2. On-board memory: RAM and flash storage
  3. Wireless Interfaces: Integrating Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and sometimes cellular modules. 
  4. Wired interfaces: Such as USB, Ethernet, PCIe, CAN, and serial ports.
  5. Input/Output Interfaces: Connect wide range of peripherals like displays (DisplayPort, HDMI), cameras, and other sensors.
  6. Carrier Board Interfaces: connectors or pins to attach SOM to larger carrier board
  7. Power Management ICs (PMICs): integrated circuits to manage power supply and distribution.
  8. Operating System: pre-installed operating system (OS) optimized for the hardware, range from Linux, Android, Ubuntu, and RTOS. 
  9. Cooling Solutions: heat sinks or thermal management solutions to handle heat dissipation. 
SOCs image.png

Common Applications and Advantages of SOMs

SOMs are typically used in:

  • Industrial automation: SOMs are highly valued for their robustness and ability to integrate quickly into systems. Allow for fast development and deployment in machinery with advanced monitoring and control capabilities. 
  • Medical: SOMs help streamline the development of compact, reliable, and efficient medical devices, such as portable diagnostic equipment and patient monitoring systems, providing pre-certified, tested modules. 
  • Gaming: Gaming systems benefit from SOMs through enhanced graphical and processing capabilities in a compact form factor, making them ideal for powerful, dedicated gaming consoles. 
  • IoT devices: SOMs are ideal for "smart" devices that operate within the Internet of Things (IoT) as they offer a versatile and scalable solution, simplifying the integration of connectivity, computing, and security features when operating in interconnected environments, from home automation to building applications. 
What is a SOM_Image of Components.png

Benefits of SOMs include:

  1. Simplification of design processes: SOMs provide a ready-made complex circuit that designers can integrate with their hardware, reducing technical challenges and eliminating lengthy hardware design.
  2. Rapid Development: SOMs allow for quick, pre-certified, pre-tested hardware development, reducing the time-to-market. 
  3. Flexibility and scalability: As project needs change, SOMs allow for easier swaps and upgrades, which is less feasible with SoCs. 

A few examples from Ezurio are our Open Standard Modules (OSM), MediaTek Genio powered SMARC SOMs, and NXP’s i.MX powered SMARC SOMs.

Comparing SOMs and SoCs

Design Flexibility

SOMs offer greater flexibility in design compared to SoCs. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for applications requiring specific customizations not available in standard SoCs. SOMS can be integrated into existing systems without the need for complete ground-up redesigns. This modular approach not only accelerates product development cycles, but also simplifies future upgrades to the system. 

For instance, in IoT devices, where the market demands frequent updates, using a SOM can significantly speed up the use of these enhancements. If an advancement in Bluetooth technology offers more reliable connectivity or lower power consumption using the latest Bluetooth 5.4, like Ezurio’s Vela IF820 Series, integrating this into a product using a SOM can be as simple as replacing the existing module with a newer one. This swap causes minimal disruption to the overall product design, saving engineering resources. And experts like Ezurio have additional support services that allow direct access to software and hardware engineers, field application engineers, and documentation like PCB layout patterns. A partner will work with you every step of the way to realize your product design.  

Integration vs. Modularity

SoCs provide a high level of integration by combining multiple functional components – such as the CPU, GPU, memory, and connectivity modules – into a single chip. This is beneficial for applications where size and power efficiency are critical, such as in mobile devices. However, this integration can limit flexibility because any change to the system often requires a complete redesign of the SoC, which is time-consuming and costly. 

On the other hand, SOMs offer a modular approach that increases flexibility without compromising on the benefits of integration. Users can use multiple SOMs with different processors on the same board footprint, which allows applications to be tested on different architectures quickly and easily by swapping the SOMs. This modularity quickens development cycles and reduces time-to-market. It is particularly beneficial in industrial automation, where technology needs can evolve rapidly as these devices have long lifecycles of 10, 15, or even 20 years. 

For example, if a new technology or improved component becomes available (such as a high-powered processor like the MediaTek Genio 700) it can be incorporated into an existing design more easily by replacing the SOM than is possible with an SoC. Ezurio’s SOMs use the Smart Mobility Architecture (SMARC) standardized form factor to easily replace an existing SOM with a more advanced one via a standard edge connector, without the need to redesign the entire system. 

Cost Implications

Initial development costs of SoCs are very high, as development requires specialized knowledge to integrate all the components (CPU, GPU, memory, etc.) on a single chip. Also, the need for custom design and fabrication processes often involves software tools, prototyping, and testing, which can be expensive, especially for medium-to-low production volumes. 

SOMs on the other hand provide a more cost-effective solution in many scenarios, especially where production volumes do not justify the high setup costs of SoC development. Since SOMs come pre-built with essential components and pre-certified with industry standards, they significantly reduce the barriers to entry in terms of both cost and expertise. Pre-certification is crucial as it eliminates the need for individual certification, which can be lengthy and expensive.

Pros and Cons

The following table outlines the advantages and disadvantages of SOM and SoC, providing insights on development time, risk, initial cost, and suitability for different types of applications:


Feature System-on-Module (SOM) System-on-Chip (SoC)
Flexibility High (modular components) Low (integrated design)
Cost in Design Phase Lower initial investment;

Lower with design changes
Higher initial cost;

Higher with design changes
Development Time Shorter due to modularity Longer due to integration
Risk Lower (easy to modify or replace parts) Higher (costly redesigns)
Application Suitability Custom, variable projects Mass-produced, standard products

Case Studies

In real-world applications, SoCs and SOMs have distinct roles. Let’s look at an example of each. 


SoCs have significantly shaped the smartphone industry. For example, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SOCs combine functions like processing, graphics handling, and network connectivity into a single chip. This allows phones to be thinner and more power efficient. Devices can perform demanding tasks like high-resolution video and photography without quickly draining the battery. Additionally, built-in AI capabilities enhance features such as voice recognition and photo editing directly on the phone, providing a smoother and faster use experience. 


In industrial automation, SOMs are crucial for updating and expanding the capabilities of manufacturing systems. For instance, using the Nitrogen8M Mini SMARC from Ezurio allows older machinery to integrate advanced features such as improved connectivity options (using the latest Wi-Fi or Bluetooth protocols) or more sophisticated control (with updated processors and AI capabilities). This adaptability is important to keep production lines up to date with minimal downtime or expense. Additionally, as technology develops, the ability to swap out or upgrade the Nitrogen8M Mini SMARC to the latest Ezurio SMARC SOM extends the life of the industrial equipment and avoiding the need for frequent major overhauls. 


Choosing between a System-on-Module and a System-on-Chip is a critical decision that depends on specific project requirements and constraints. Engineers must consider factors such as flexibility, cost, and intended application to determine which solution best fits their needs.

If you're planning your next embedded project, carefully assess your requirements and consult with experienced hardware engineers to choose between SOM and SoC effectively. The right choice can lead to better performance, cost savings, and product success. Considering the complexities and rapid development in the fields of IoT and AI, adopting a strategic approach when selecting between SOM and SoC is more crucial than ever. Be sure to stay informed and choose wisely!

About Ezurio

Ezurio turns design possibility into reality with a comprehensive range of RF modules, system-on-modules, single board computers, internal antennas, IoT devices, and custom solutions. With decades of engineering expertise, Ezurio provides solutions that reduce development costs and time to market. Our global reach and unmatched support are backed by a resilient global supply chain that gives our customers the stability to overcome every design challenge with confidence. Turn design possibility into reality with Ezurio, your connectivity expert. 

To learn more about Ezurio, visit