Differences Between Microprocessors and Microcontrollers

Microprocessors and microcontrollers are two devices that serve as integral components of most programmable electronics. However, they are often conflated for one another despite having many core differences, some of which include cost, speed, and power consumption. To better understand these versatile apparatuses, we will cover their unique features and technological variances.

What Is a Microcontroller?

A microcontroller, or MCU, is a single Integrated Circuit (IC) that is used for specific applications and finds use in products and devices that must be automatically controlled. Some of the most popular applications include house appliances, power tools, automobile engine control systems, and computers. Essentially, microcontrollers gather input, process it, and generate a specific function based on the processed data.

What Is a Microprocessor?

A microprocessor is considered an electronic component utilized by a computer to do its work. It is a central processing unit (CPU) on a single IC chip containing millions of transistors, resistors, and diodes that work together. It is worth noting that some may require several chips. Lastly, microprocessors complete a wide range of tasks, from controlling elevators to searching the Web.

Cost, Speed, & Power Consumption

In terms of cost, microprocessors are more expensive as they are generally used alongside more costly devices. As previously mentioned, they are also more complex because they are intended to carry out a variety of computational tasks, whereas microcontrollers are meant to perform one specific function. To be more specific, a microcontroller allows engineers to write and compile code for particular applications and upload it into the microcontroller. Within the microcontroller, computation features and components work in tandem to execute the code.

When looking at the clock speed of microcontrollers and microprocessors, there are some significant differences. This is primarily connected to the fact that microcontrollers are designed to perform a specific task or function, while microprocessors complete complex, unpredictable computing tasks. As such, the right amount of speed and power is required to get any job done. That being said, many microprocessors have clocking speeds up to 4 GHz, whereas microcontrollers operate at speeds of 200 MHz or less.

One of the other advantages of microcontrollers is their low power consumption. Power consumption plays a critical role in the design of microcontrollers and microprocessors. For example, a processor that consumes a lot of power needs to be plugged in or supported by an external power source. In contrast, a processor that consumes very little power can be simply powered with a compact battery.


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