The Difference Between Microprocessors and Microcontrollers

Microprocessor and microcontroller components are two types of integrated circuits (ICs) that are often confused for one another despite serving very different roles and uses. While a microprocessor acts as the processor of a computer with data processing logic and control, a microcontroller is implemented within an embedded system to govern a particular application. As two common components that may be present within many electronic devices and systems, it is important to understand the difference between each and the applications that both serve.

Microprocessors operate without a predefined task, typically being assigned to an operation by a user. Such components are widely implemented in a number of consumer devices, including those such as computers, video game consoles, mobile phones, televisions, and more. As a device that assists systems that have unfixed tasks, microprocessors find implementation in applications where intensive processing is required. With a computer, for example, the microprocessor can serve numerous roles as needed, facilitating operations such as document creation, media streaming, image editing, Internet browsing, and much more.

Microcontrollers, as previously discussed, are designed with a specific task in mind. Typically, the microcontroller will have a program that is embedded to the chip, meaning that any alterations may be difficult as special tools are required for reburning programs. As a result of their standard operations, microcontrollers are considered to be fixed for a particular application. With an input provided by a user or various system sensors, the microcontroller will utilize predefined settings to create an intended output. For their implementation, microcontrollers are often found within washing machines, microwave ovens, timers, and other various appliances and devices. With a microwave oven as an example, predefined inputs can be entered by a user for cooking settings, and a resulting fixed action will be carried out. Unlike a microprocessor, only predefined operations may be achieved with microcontrollers.

For the structure and composition of a microprocessor, such components will generally only have a CPU. If any I/O ports, ROM, RAM, or other peripherals are desired, they must be connected externally. Microprocessors are also known to be fairly flexible, allowing a user to determine the amount of peripheral devices and memory that may be added. With microcontrollers, on the other hand, the CPU, memory, and all other peripherals are pre-assembled to create a single unit, thus the structure is fixed and unchangeable. The clock speeds of microprocessors are often much quicker than microcontrollers, boasting a range of 1 GHz to 4 GHz. Meanwhile, microcontrollers operate on a range of 1 MHz to 300 MHz.

Due to the difference in construction and operations of each component, microprocessors tend to have a much higher cost than microcontrollers with their complexity. Microprocessors may also be larger in construction and require a higher amount of power for operations. Despite these characteristics seeming like potential drawbacks, it is important to consider that microprocessors are intended for more complex operations such as carrying out the diverse functionalities of a computer. If a simple, predefined task is to be carried out, then a microcontroller may be a good fit.


March 12, 2021
December 23, 2020

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