microcontroller vs microprocessor


what is microcontroller ?

A Microcontroller is a programmable digital processor with necessary peripherals. Both microcontrollers and microprocessors are complex sequential digital circuits meant to carry out job according to the program / instructions.

what is microprocessor ?

A Microprocessor is integrated chip specially designed to perform computational task such as logical operation, arithmetic operation, etc. it is also called CPU (central processing unit).  


Development/Classification of microcontrollers

Microcontrollers have gone through a silent evolution. The evolution of microcontroller technology has undergone significant change since early 1970’s. Development of some popular microcontrollers is given as follows:

Intel 4004 4 bit (2300 PMOS trans, 108 kHz) 1971
Intel 8048 8 bit 1976
Intel 8031 8 bit (ROM-less) .
Intel 8051 8 bit (Mask ROM) 1980
Microchip PIC16C64 8 bit 1985
Motorola 68HC11 8 bit (on chip ADC) .
Intel 80C196 16 bit 1982
Atmel AT89C51 8 bit (Flash memory) .
Microchip PIC 16F877 8 bit (Flash memory + ADC) .


Development of microprocessors

Microprocessors have undergone significant evolution over the past four decades. This development is clearly perceptible to a common user, especially, in terms of phenomenal growth in capabilities of personal computers. Development of some of the microprocessors can be given as follows:

Intel 4004 4 bit (2300 PMOS transistors) 1971
Intel 8080
8 bit (NMOS)
8 bit
Intel 8088
16 bit
16 bit
Intel 80186
16 bit
16 bit
Intel 80386 32 bit (275000 transistors) 1985
Intel 80486 SX
32 bit
32 bit (built in floating point unit)
Intel 80586     I
Celeron II
64 bit 1993
Z-80 (Zilog) 8 bit 1976
Motorola Power PC     601
32-bit  1993-995


Difference between microcontroller and microprocessor

  • Architecture: Most of the microprocessors use CISC architecture and Von-Neumann architecture, where as microcontroller used Harvard and RISC architecture most probably. But there are some microcontroller uses CISC architecture like 8051 and SHARC. But popularly microprocessor uses CISC architecture as our desktop computer (x86 architecture).


  • Design:  Microprocessor has ROM, RAM, secondary storage memory I/O peripherals, timers; counters etc are placed on a board and connected through buses where as in the microcontroller all these peripherals are combined in a single integrated circuit (IC).


  • CPU Speed: Processors are more speed than controllers because of the clock. Processors can have high clock rate, even if they become heat due to over clock rate the heat sink will stop from over heating. A microcontroller clock speed is limited only to a few tens of MHz. The execution speed will always depends up on the clock.
  • Development Time: The development time of an application of microcontroller will take less time as compared to the processor. The interfacing between the peripherals and programming them will be easy as compared to the processor.
  • Protection: If you programmed the microcontroller it is hard to get the program from the ROM or Flash by other users. The ROM or Flash will be locked and it is very hard to retrieve the program from the rom of microcontroller. Processor will not give that much protection to its program.
  • Cost: cost of microprocessors and implementing microprocessor based systems will be costly when compared to the microcontroller based system. The microprocessor system will never be a compact system. Most of the microcontroller based systems are compact systems.
  • Applications: processors are mainly used in computation systems, defense systems, network communications etc. microcontrollers are mainly used in embedded application like watches, cellphone, mp3 player, etc. 

                        We use more number of microcontrollers compared to microprocessors. Microprocessors are primarily used for computational purpose, whereas microcontrollers find wide application in devices needing real time processing with control.

Suggested Reading

  1. Difference between RISC and CISC architecture
  2. Difference between ARM and other Microcontrollers
  3. Arduino Vs Raspberry Pi

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