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Microcontroller vs Microprocessor – Ten Major Differences

Microcontrollers and microprocessors house the computer central processing units and hence function as the brains of computer systems. 

At face value, knowing the difference between the two might seem a little confusing. You might be wondering, what is controlling and processing about in electrical systems? Are they similar, or are they two very different components of electronic circuitry

Here, we shall be looking at each component, focusing on their significant differences.


What Is A Microprocessor?


Electronic Circuit Board With Processor

Fig 1: Electronic Circuit Board With Processor


A microprocessor is a computer processor housed in one integrated circuit (IC) or a single chip. Thus, it performs all a central processing unit (CPU).

It’s a versatile, programmable, register-based chip that accepts binary instructions from memory and processes input data to output.

Three fundamental characteristics that differentiate microprocessors: the instruction set, clock speed, and bandwidth. High clock speeds and bandwidths lead to faster processor operation and smoother communication with peripherals.


What Is A Microcontroller?


Detail Of A Computer Circuit Board

Fig 2: Detail Of A Computer Circuit Board


A microcontroller is a low-cost microcomputer that executes specific tasks in embedded systems. The tasks include dedicated functions like controlling engine temperature in vehicles, displaying information in washing machines, etc. 

The processor core, RAM, ROM, and important peripheral components are housed in a single chip. 


The Structural Difference Between A Microcontroller And A Microprocessor 


A Digital Circuit

Fig 3: A Digital Circuit


A microcontroller is a structurally more compact electronic component than a microprocessor. All peripherals such as watchdog timers, 12C, ADC, etc., and memory is housed with the CPU in one chip. 

The amount of memory and ports required for microcontrollers is limited. They are suitable for specific tasks and have fewer external components.

A microprocessor houses and performs the essential computer CPU functions. Its peripherals and memory components, like ROM and RAM, are connected externally. You can use a microprocessor in a variety of applications by selecting the peripherals you need.


Internal Parameters Of Microcontroller Vs. Microprocessor 


A Computer Ram

Fig 4: A Computer Ram


  • Size Comparison


It is challenging, at times, to differentiate between a microcontroller and a microprocessor on size. Microprocessors are generally physically bigger than microcontrollers since they need more ports to interface with the peripherals.


  • Peripheral Interface Comparison


Microcontrollers and microprocessors rely extensively on peripherals such as sensors and shift registers for effective performance. Communicating with these peripherals requires a channel that facilitates the flow of data and instructions. 

Microcontrollers use 12C, SPI, and UART as the standard hardware interfaces for performing a dedicated task. They perform complex tasks by communicating through USB, UART, and high-speed Ethernet.


  • Bit size Comparison


Both microprocessors and microcontrollers can handle the same amount of data for the lower bit sizes. For instance, microcontrollers are either 8-bit, 16-bit, or 32-bit. 

On the other hand, microprocessors are 32-bit and 64-bit. 

The data size that a microprocessor handles in a single cycle is more significant than that of a microcontroller.

Data in microcontrollers is in bits and bytes. Traditionally, an N-bit CPU has an Arithmetic and Logic Unit (ALU), buses, or registers having N-bits. However, that is no longer the case with modern microprocessors and microcontrollers.

Whatever determines the bit size of a microprocessor is not the largest register, bus, or ALU. Some CPUs have architectures that support different bit sizes within various components, including the internal memory and registers.


  • Clock Speed Comparison


Microcontrollers run their programs from much smaller internal memory called the flash memory. Therefore,they're designed to run at speeds sufficient to execute the particular task and no less or more.

Another aspect of microcontroller speeds is that most of the peripherals are within the same microchip. Consequently, the microchip design’s proximity of the components lowers the clock speeds of the microcontroller.

For instance, 8-bit microcontrollers can run at speeds of 1MHz to 20MHz. The 16-bit and 32-bit ones can run at clock speeds of 100MHz to 300MHz. 

Microprocessors are generally faster than microcontrollers. Hence, they perform multiple complicated tasks simultaneously. On the other hand, microcontrollers run more straightforward input-output errands.

Microprocessors run at clock speeds of 1GHz to 4GHz with the help of external memory or RAM. The higher the microprocessor or microcontroller speeds the faster the task execution in a computer CPU.   


  • Memory Comparison


There are two types of memory in microprocessors and microcontrollers; Random Access Memory and Read-Only Memory. 

Note that microcontrollers are task-specific and usually don't require so much memory. Their volatile memory ranges from 2KB to 256KB. 

On the other hand, microprocessors have a volatile memory that ranges from 512 MB to 32 GB. They’re volatile because data on the memory or the RAM is lost once the electronic device loses power.


  • ROM Comparison


Microcontrollers are task-specific and don’t require much ROM to execute. Therefore, It has ROM (flash memory) sizes that range from 32 KB to 2 MB.

On the contrary, a microprocessor generally has a bigger ROM than a microcontroller. It has ROM (hard disk) sizes of 128 GB to 2 TB.


  • Power Consumption Comparison


A key advantage of microcontrollers is that they perform dedicated tasks that need low computational power. Their slower speeds ensure that they consume less energy than microprocessors. 

Microprocessors perform generic tasks that require more processor speeds to execute. Getting a processor up to speed consumes a lot of power. It’s for this reason that most microprocessor systems require an external power supply. 

In contrast, a microcontroller-based system such as a TV remote can use a single small battery for months.


Microcontroller vs. Microprocessor: Applications


Technician Checking A Fire Panel

Fig 5: Technician Checking A Fire Panel


Microcontrollers are utilized in embedded systems to execute specific tasks that might not require human intervention for long periods. It’s evident in devices such as fire detection devices, process control devices, and sound sensing and controlling devices.

In contrast, microprocessors are ideal in generic systems whereby the user predefines a task that the system executes. These systems include your personal computer, mobile phones, and satellite communications.


Microcontroller vs. Microprocessor: Cost


Microprocessors are generally more expensive than microcontrollers.

Their design considers the target application. Their circuitry, memory, processing power, and ports are lesser than a microprocessor.

Microprocessors also have high processing powers. They must interface external memories, have more IO ports, and have more complex circuitry than a microcontroller circuit. All these factors, when summed together, drive the cost of the microprocessors up. 




This article discussed the significant differences between a microcontroller and a microprocessor. Did you have any doubts about microcontroller and microprocessor sizes, applications, and requirements? 

We hope that you have no more doubts. Always remember that microprocessors are ideal in systems that require high processing power, while microcontrollers are suitable in embedded systems. Make the right choice.

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