Difference between Microprocessor and Microcontroller

Written By: 
Himanshu Choudhary

The term microprocessor and microcontroller have always been confused with each other. Both of them have been designed for real time application. They share many common features and at the same time they have significant differences. Both the IC’s i.e., the microprocessor and microcontroller cannot be distinguished by looking at them.  They are available in different version starting from 6 pin to as high as 80 to 100 pins or even higher depending on the features.

 

Difference between microprocessor and microcontroller
Microprocessor is an IC which has only the CPU inside them i.e. only the processing powers such as Intel’s Pentium 1,2,3,4, core 2 duo, i3, i5 etc. These microprocessors don’t have RAM, ROM, and other peripheral on the chip. A system designer has to add them externally to make them functional. Application of microprocessor includes Desktop PC’s, Laptops, notepads etc.
 
But this is not the case with Microcontrollers. Microcontroller has a CPU, in addition with a fixed amount of RAM, ROM and other peripherals all embedded on a single chip. At times it is also termed as a mini computer or a computer on a single chip. Today different manufacturers produce microcontrollers with a wide range of features available in different versions. Some manufacturers are ATMEL, Microchip, TI, Freescale, Philips, Motorola etc. 
 
Microcontrollers are designed to perform specific tasks. Specific means applications where the relationship of input and output is defined. Depending on the input, some processing needs to be done and output is delivered. For example, keyboards, mouse, washing machine, digicam, pendrive, remote, microwave, cars, bikes, telephone, mobiles, watches, etc. Since the applications are very specific, they need small resources like RAM, ROM, I/O ports etc and hence can be embedded on a single chip. This in turn reduces the size and the cost.
 
Microprocessor find applications where tasks are unspecific like developing software, games, websites, photo editing, creating documents etc. In such cases the relationship between input and output is not defined. They need high amount of resources like RAM, ROM, I/O ports etc. 
The clock speed of the Microprocessor is quite high as compared to the microcontroller. Whereas the microcontrollers operate from a few MHz to 30 to 50 MHz, today’s microprocessor operate above 1GHz as they perform complex tasks. Read more about what is microcontroller.
 
Comparing microcontroller and microprocessor in terms of cost is not justified. Undoubtedly a microcontroller is far cheaper than a microprocessor. However microcontroller cannot be used in place of microprocessor and using a microprocessor is not advised in place of a microcontroller as it makes the application quite costly. Microprocessor cannot be used stand alone. They need other peripherals like RAM, ROM, buffer, I/O ports etc and hence a system designed around a microprocessor is quite costly.