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Microcontroller (MCU)

A microcontroller (MCU) is a microprocessor that contains a few additional components such as RAM, ROM, and programmable I/O ports primarily designed to control and drive other electronic equipment. MCUs are designed to be embedded, usually in a highly restrictive environment.

Microcontrollers, usually consume very little power, may run relatively slow, and typically execute individual task-specific programs. This is in contrast to system on chips (SoC) which are much more powerful devices, capable of executing modern-day operating systems and applications.


Microcontrollers are microprocessors with the necessary components incorporated into them to function as a single computer on a chip. This usually includes the CPU, program and data memory, programmable serial and parallel I/O ports, timers, and internal and external interrupts. External communication is a big part of microcontrollers. Because of that many MCUs allow for somewhat sophisticated I/O data manipulation programmatically.

The vast majority of microcontrollers are used in the controlling and monitoring of electronic equipment and products. Microcontrollers are designed to operate in a highly restrictive environments where characteristics such as cost, size, and power consumption are most important. MCUs range from 4-32 bits in word size and may come with as little as just a few kilobytes to a few 100s. Some MCUs can operate as low as just a few kHz and consume a few milliwatts or even microwatts in some situations. MCUs are also very cost-sensitive, ultra-cheap MCUs cost as little as just a few cents per 1000 units.


Microcontrollers are primarily designed, as their name imply, to control and drive electronic equipment. MCUs are used in a plethora of embedded systems such as toys, calculators, remote controls, power tools, office machines, and industrial controllers. More recently MCUs have found their way to implantable medical devices and internet of things. A modern home might have 100s of embedded microcontrollers. MCUs can be found in almost all modern microwave ovens, refrigerators, dishwasher, coffee makers, and vacuum cleaners.

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