Microcontrollers vs Microprocessors

Microcontrollers vs Microprocessors: In this article, we will learn about the differences between a Microprocessor and a Microcontroller, their main features, advantages and disadvantages in real application.
Submitted by Sudarshan Paul, on June 19, 2018

Microcontrollers vs Microprocessors

The terms microcontroller and microprocessor are commonly misinterpreted to be the same thing even though they have wide areas of difference. The devices have real-time application in many fields. It is true that they share quite a number of similarities between them but the major differences can never be neglected. Apart from field experts, it is impossible for us to distinguish them just by their physical structure.

Microprocessors are the integrated chips which contain only the CPU inside them i.e. they perform only processing related operations and depend on other chips and systems for full functioning. You must have heard of Intel Pentium, Celeron, i3, i5 all these are microprocessors with only the processing unit. These ICs lack RAM, ROM, and other required peripherals or devices. So in order to obtain a complete system which can take input and generate output, these microprocessors must be coupled with other peripherals. These microprocessors find their uses in Desktops and Laptops.

On contrary to this microcontrollers have a designated CPU, RAM, ROM and other peripherals required for normal functioning all integrated within the chip, unlike microprocessors where extra peripherals are added externally. They have inbuilt input – output mechanism. Unlike microprocessors, these are used for performing only specific operations, thus they require a limited amount of resources such as RAM, ROM, I/O ports.

Microprocessors are incorporated in systems which needs to perform a wide range of tasks such as software development, graphics editing, browsing etc. Thus the type of input and the type of output required is not specified. Hence they require a high amount of RAM, ROM and I/O ports for proper functioning.

The operating frequency or the clock speed of microprocessors are kept high due to large workload they demand more speed and performance. On the other hand, microcontrollers require low oscillatory frequency because they are required to be energy efficient and cost-effective. The acting processing speed of microcontrollers is measured in MHz which ranges from 30-50 MHz whereas microprocessors speed is calculated in GHz ( gigahertz), for a typical desktop computer nowadays it is 3.22GHz.

In terms of cost, it is not a justifiable comparison since microcontrollers are used in small-scale devices which perform only specific operations, they obviously are far cheaper than microprocessors. However, no one can replace each other’s position in terms of operation. For example, a microcontroller will be too feeble to process the operations done by a microprocessor and if a microprocessor is used in place of a microcontroller then it will make the device too costly for its operation since they will require extra peripherals to work with them. So it is not advisable to use a microprocessor in microcontroller applications.

Disadvantages of Microprocessor

  • The size of the board is large compared to microcontroller since there is a large number of discrete components.
  • It requires different peripherals for different projects thus datasheet every component needs to be studied.

Disadvantages of Microcontroller

Since all the components are present onboard, therefore, there is no scope for performance improvement by upgrading the components.

Advantages of Microprocessors

The same microprocessor board can be utilized for different projects just by changing the peripherals required. Thus saving time and cost of interfacing the peripherals with the board.

Advantages of Microcontrollers

The cost of the microcontroller is far cheaper than microprocessor even for low power frequency. This makes them perfect for programming for low scale projects and devices. They are extremely portable thus helping in their easy mass production.


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