Microprocessors and microcontrollers are often mistaken, though they are significantly different from one another – the former consist only of a central processing unit (CPU), while the latter has a CPU, Memory, and I/O integrated into one chip. But this is only the starting point for the whole list of differences; if you wish to read more about the distinction, read this article – we discuss microcontroller vs. microprocessor here.
Microcontroller vs. Microprocessor: Definitions
For starters, let’s take a look at how each of them is defined. This will provide us with more insight into other differences, which often have their roots in the basic distinctions between these two units.
What is a microprocessor? It is a strong CPU on a single chip, which is connected to an external peripheral. As such, it runs on a large circuit (when compared to a microcontroller) and requires a lot of energy.
The aim of microprocessors is to offer high power in small sizes. Therefore, while they might be utilized for more demanding embedded systems, they are most often found in high-end computers, servers, or even personal computers.
What is a microcontroller? It’s simply the microprocessor and its peripherals integrated into one chip. Due to that, it runs on a small internal circuit and thus requires significantly less power than a microprocessor-based system.
Microcontrollers are supposed to be as autonomous as possible. They don’t need to match microprocessors in efficiency, as they are mostly designed with smaller, less complex devices in mind – such as the most common everyday embedded systems. Therefore, their energy consumption and lower costs are their most crucial assets.
Microprocessors vs. Microcontroller: Advantages and Disadvantages
We’re after introductions, so we can get to the core – the pros and cons of microprocessors vs. microcontrollers. Again, let’s discuss each of these two separately – it’ll give us a better context:
- Computational power – As we mentioned before, although small in size, microprocessors are extremely efficient. After all, these are the processors that most modern personal computers run on.
- Flexibility – With such power and their generic nature – after all, they’re just a CPU in a chip – microprocessors have a wide range of applications.
- Speed – Not only do microprocessors handle the most complex tasks, but also get the less complicated ones done in a timely manner.
- Accuracy – Microprocessors are capable of working with 100% accuracy – you can get an incorrect output only through an error in the input.
- External dependencies – Microprocessors rely on external components, like memory and peripherals. This means that the whole system is more complex and that their capabilities might be restricted by faulty or inefficient hardware that they are connected to.
- Power consumption – Computational power requires electrical power, so it’s natural that a microprocessor is not the most energy-efficient chip for your device. This is especially problematic for systems that need to run on independent energy sources, many of which are insufficient compared to the energy demand of a microprocessor.
- Speed – Microcontrollers might have limited power, but they are still capable of handling simple tasks quickly.
- Easy maintenance – Troubleshooting and fixing a microcontroller is rather straightforward.
- Affordable – A microcontroller is visibly less expensive than a microprocessor, making it a better choice for systems that don’t require much computational power
- Real-time processing – Microcontrollers are capable of performing real-time processing, which is critical for devices that need quick response times, such as the embedded systems in automobiles or aircraft.
- Energy-efficiency – Due to microcontrollers running independently, they consume significantly less power than a microprocessor. The difference is so large that the former can actually work with devices running on stored power (e.g. on batteries). Plus, a microcontroller usually has an energy-saving mode, while a microprocessor does not.
- Vulnerability to static charge – As microcontrollers are made of complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor, they are susceptible to static charge, which can damage them significantly.
- Limited functionality – Having restricted connectivity, power and memory, microcontrollers might simply be incapable of handling more complex tasks.
Microprocessors vs. Microcontrollers: Applications
Finally, let’s take a closer look at the instances in which you can use a microcontroller vs. a microprocessor. We have created a list of devices that typically have either of these, which we present to you below:
- Accounting systems
- Games machines
- Industrial controllers
- Data processing systems
- Personal and scientific computers
- Military devices
- Traffic lights
- Mobile phones
- Home appliances (washing machines, microwave ovens, dishwashers, mp3 players, TVs, etc.)
- Security alarms
- Keyboard controllers
- Electronic watches
- IoT devices
As you can see, although similar on the surface, microcontrollers and microprocessors are completely different. However, we mustn’t forget that both of these are crucial for the world that we live in.
Without microprocessors, modern personal computers would simply not exist, and along with them our current lifestyle and the Industrial Revolution 4.0. With no microcontrollers, we would struggle to build many devices, or their costs would skyrocket. After all, every household can afford a washing machine since it runs on a microcontroller, and with a microprocessor it would both be more expensive and less energy-efficient – simply available only to the richest.
Was this article helpful? Did you like it? Then we suggest delving further into the world of microprocessors and reading our article on what is RISC and CISC architecture.