what is a microcontroller

What Is a Microcontroller?

A microcontroller unit (MCU) is a tiny computer that combines a CPU, memory, and input/output peripherals on a single integrated circuit (IC) chip. This results in lower power usage, more compact designs, and lower costs. Microcontrollers may also offer embedded systems with functional safety and security.

Microcontrollers are increasingly being required to include advanced security features in order to avoid security breaches and malware assaults. As a result, the new generation of 32-bit MCUs offers reliable security for a wide range of embedded system applications.

Definition of a Microcontroller

A microcontroller is a type of computer chip that is designed to control electrical devices. It’s kept on a single integrated circuit that’s dedicated to completing a single task and running a single program.

It is a type of circuit that is specifically developed for embedded applications and is frequently utilized in electrical devices that are automatically regulated. Memory, CPU, and programmable I/O are all included.

A microcontroller is a semiconductor integrated circuit device that has many functional blocks such as a CPU, ROM, RAM, Timer, Counter, and interrupts, among others. It’s simply a compact computer that has all of the necessary peripherals in one container.

Types of Microcontrollers

Microcontrollers are utilized in a variety of applications, including automatic control of industries, autos, electronic medical devices, appliances, and many more embedded systems. They’re popular because of their small size, low power consumption, and inexpensive cost.

Different technology manufacturers create microcontrollers with various specifications and configurations. As a result, microcontrollers may be classified according to their memory, architecture, and bits. The following are some of the most common types of microcontrollers.

Microcontrollers based on bits

Microcontrollers are split into 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit microcontrollers based on bits.

8 bit Microcontroller

Microcontrollers of this kind have an 8-bit (1-byte) bus width. It indicates that it can transport and process 8-bit data in a single cycle. Because its ALU (arithmetic logic unit) is similarly 8-bit, the biggest impediment it poses is in mathematical operations. It employs numerous cycles to execute a basic mathematical function in order to handle huge data, such as 16 bits. As a result, the whole logic circuit performs poorly.

The timer is another important aspect of an 8-bit microcontroller. The maximum range of an 8-bit timer is 0x00 (0) to 0xFF (255). It can lead to inaccuracies in time delay function generation. The Intel 8051/8031, Motorola MC68HC11 families and PIC1x are examples of popular 8-bit microcontrollers.

16 bit Microcontroller

The bus width of a microcontroller like this is 16 bits (2 bytes). In a single cycle, it can transport and analyze 16 bits of data. Its 16-bit ALU outperforms an 8-bit microcontroller in terms of performance. And its 16-bit timer has a broad range of values from 0x0000 (0) to 0xFFFF (65535), giving it the highest accuracy for the money in any application or project that requires Timer functionalities.

The PIC2x, 8051XA, Intel 8096, Atmega328p and Motorola MC68HC12 families are all examples of 16-bit microcontrollers.

32 bit Microcontroller

The bus width of a 32-bit microcontroller is 32 bits, or four bytes. Such microcontrollers have better performance and precision than 16-bit microcontrollers, but they are also more costly and use more power.

Because of its faster processing speed, it is the greatest contender for complicated jobs like audio and video signal processing, image processing, and so on. Ethernet, Universal Serial Bus (USB), Universal Asynchronous Receiver-Transmitter Devices (UARTS), and a Controller Area Network (May) bus are just a few of the peripherals it can handle in embedded system projects and applications.

Intel/Atmel 251 family, PIC3x are common 32-bit microcontrollers.

Embedded Microcontroller

Microcontrollers are utilized in products and equipment that are automatically operated, such as car engine control systems, implanted medical devices, remote controls, office machinery, appliances, power tools, toys, and other embedded systems.

External memory Microcontroller

External Memory Microcontroller: An external memory microcontroller is a microcontroller unit in an embedded system that does not have all of the functional blocks available on a chip. The 8031, for example, is an external memory microcontroller with no program memory on the chip.

Features of Microcontroller

The following are some of the most essential characteristics of a microcontroller: Reset the processor, I/O pins for program and variable memory (RAM), Central processor clocking device, Timers for instruction cycles.

An embedded system’s heart is the microcontroller. A processor, as well as internal memory and I/O components, make up a Micro Controller. The internal circuit is modest, and memory and I/O are already there. It may be used in small systems. The total cost of the system is minimal.

Because the number of external components is small, the total power consumption is minimal. As a result, it may be utilized with devices that run on stored energy, such as batteries. The majority of microcontrollers have a power-saving mode. It’s mostly found in washers, MP3 players, and embedded devices.

There are more registers on a microcontroller. As a result, the programs are simpler to write. Harvard architecture is used to design microcontrollers. It is a result of the evolution of microprocessors that include a CPU as well as various peripherals. It consists of a single chip having a CPU, RAM, ROM, and other peripherals.

It makes use of an internal control bus. Depending on the design, microcontroller systems can run at speeds of up to 200MHz. It’s a system that’s tailored to a certain application. Microcontroller is straightforward and affordable, with fewer instructions to complete.

Application of Microcontroller

In contrast to microprocessors, which are used in PCs and other all-purpose devices, microcontrollers are designed for embedded devices. Microcontrollers are used in a variety of automatically controlled innovations and appliances, including power tools, implanted medical devices, automotive engine control systems, office machinery, remote control appliances, toys, and a variety of other embedded systems.

Microcontrollers make it affordable to digitally manage more and more appliances and processes by reducing the size and cost of a system that uses a separate microprocessor, I/O devices, and memory. The use of non-digital electronic structures to put together analog elements necessitated the use of mixed signal microcontrollers.

Microcontroller Applications in Daily Life Devices

  • Mp3 players
  • Watches
  • Washing machines
  • Temperature sensing and controlling devices
  • Security alarms
  • Process control devices
  • Mobile phones
  • Microwave oven
  • Light sensing & controlling devices
  • Keyboard controllers
  • Industrial instrumentation devices
  • Fire detection & safety devices
  • CD/DVD players
  • Cameras
  • Automobiles

Microcontrollers in Industrial

  • Process control devices
  • Industrial instrumentation devices

Microcontroller Applications in Metering and Measurement Devices

  • Current meter
  • Hand-held metering systems
  • Volt Meter
  • Measuring revolving objects


In conclusion, Microcontrollers are found in a wide range of devices and systems. Multiple microcontrollers are frequently used in devices to perform different jobs within the device.

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