Microprocessor vs Microcontroller

Microcontrollers and microprocessors are both essential components in the world of embedded systems and digital computing, but they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics.

A microcontroller (MCU) is a compact integrated circuit (IC) designed to perform specific tasks within embedded systems. It combines a central processing unit (CPU), memory (RAM and ROM), input/output (I/O) peripherals, and sometimes additional features like timers, counters, and analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) on a single chip.

A microprocessor is the central processing unit (CPU) of a general-purpose computer system. It is responsible for executing instructions and performing arithmetic and logic operations on data. Microprocessors do not typically include built-in RAM, ROM, or I/O peripherals on the same chip. Instead, they rely on external components (such as memory chips and peripheral controllers) to interface with the outside world.

microcontroller versus microprocessor

As Mentioned in the figures, Microcontroller and microprocessor both have got CPU, ALU and registers (PC, IR, etc). Microcontroller and microprocessor have address bus, data bus and control bus. Address bus carry data which point to specific locations on memory/external devices. Data bus carries data. Control bus carry control signals.

Microcontroller usually operates at frequencies in MHz range while today's Microprocessor operates in GHz frequency range. This clock is provided using oscillator.

Microcontroller and microprocessor both have their own applications. Hence both cannot be used for each other's functional areas except for few exceptions (very low size code/data application).

In addition to microprocessor (CPU) functionality microcontroller will have timers, counters, RAM, ROM and Input/Output ports.

This page covers very basic details on microcontroller versus microprocessor, if reader wants to gain in depth knowledge on similarities and differences between microcontroller and microprocessor they need to explore both the fields practically.

EXAMPLEs : Classic example of microcontroller is Intel 8051 and classic example of microprocessor is 8085. Refer 8051 Architecture➤ and 8085 Architecture➤ and difference between 8051 vs 8085➤.

Most of the microprocessors have Op-codes for moving data from the external memory to the CPU; Microcontrollers may have one or two.

Microprocessors have one/two types of bit handling instructions while Micro controllers have many. Microprocessor is used for general purpose applications while microcontroller is program specific and designed for particular application in consideration.

Microprocessor transfers code and data very fast from external memory devices to the chip. While microcontroller is concerned with fast movement of bits within the chip.

Similarities between Microcontroller and microprocessor

While microcontrollers and microprocessors have distinct purposes and characteristics, they also share several similarities, especially since they are both fundamental components of digital computing.
• Central Processing Unit (CPU): Both microcontrollers and microprocessors have a CPU which is responsible for executing instructions and performing arithmetic and logic operations.
• Instruction Execution: They both execute instructions stored in memory to perform tasks.
• Clock Speed: Both microcontrollers and microprocessors operate based on a clock signal, which determines the speed at which instructions are executed.
• Data Processing: Both are capable of processing data and performing mathematical operations, although the extent of this capability may vary significantly between microcontrollers and microprocessors.
• Programming: They are both programmable devices. Programmers can write code to instruct them to perform specific tasks. Programming languages such as C, C++ and assembly language are commonly used for both.
• Binary Data: They work with binary data (0s and 1s) at the hardware level. Data and instructions are represented in binary form.
• Input/Output (I/O): While microcontrollers typically have more integrated I/O peripherals, both microcontrollers and microprocessors interface with external devices and peripherals for input and output operations.
• Memory: Although the memory hierarchy and organization differ, both microcontrollers and microprocessors use memory to store data and instructions. This includes RAM (for temporary data storage) and ROM (for program storage).
• Interrupts: Both can handle interrupts, which are signals that temporarily halt normal program execution to address high-priority events.
• Development Tools: Developers and engineers often use similar development tools like integrated development environments (IDEs), assemblers, and debuggers for programming and testing purposes.
• Advancements: Both microcontrollers and microprocessors continue to advance in terms of technology, performance, and capabilities, driven by ongoing developments in the semiconductor industry.

Difference between Microcontroller and microprocessor

Parameters Microcontroller Microprocessor
Purpose Designed for specific tasks and control applications in embedded systems. Used for general purpose computing in various applications
Integration Typically integrates CPU, RAM, ROM and I/O peropherals on a single chip. Usually includes only the CPU and relies on external components for memory and peripherals.
Specialized functions Often includes built-in features like timers, counters, ADCs and PWM controllers. Primarily focused on executing instructions and performing arithmetic/logic operations.
Real time control Well suited for real time control applications due to integrated hardware features. Not inherently optimized for real time control but can be used for various computing tasks.
Power consumption Designed for low power consumption , making them suitable for battery operated devices. Typically consume more power and are less power efficient compared to microcontrollers.
Cost Generally cost effective, especially for mass produced embedded systems. Can be costlier, as they may require additional external components for complete functionality.
Programming Embedded C/C++, Assembly or other low level languages High level languages like C, C++, JAVA etc.
Flexibility Less flexible in terms of general purpose tasks but highly tailored for specific tasks Highly flexible and adaptable to various computing requirements
Complexity Generally simpler in terms of processing power and capability Often more powerful and capable of handling complex tasks and multi-tasking
Examples Automotive control systems, IoT devices, robotics, home appliances PCs, servers, smartphones, tablets, general purpose computing devices

Conclusion : In summary, the main differences between microcontrollers and microprocessors are their purpose and integration:
➨Microcontrollers are designed for specific, dedicated tasks and often include all the necessary components on a single chip. They are ideal for embedded systems and control applications.
➨Microprocessors are general-purpose CPUs without built-in peripherals and are used in a wide range of computing applications where flexibility and programmability are essential.
Both microcontrollers and microprocessors are vital components in the world of digital electronics, each serving different needs within various applications.

8085, 8086, 80286, 80386 and 80486 Microprocessor types

Refer following links which compares and mention difference between 8085, 8086, 80286, 80386 and 80486 microprocessor types. It mentions figures which covers pin details of ICs 8086, 80286 and 80386.
8085 vs 8086 Microprocessor➤   8086 vs 80286 vs 80386 vs 80486➤

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