Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-68318-000-5.ch001

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What Is A Microcontroller?

A microcontroller is a small computer integrated on a single chip. It can be programmed to implement just about anything a consumer wants. It is also known as a single-chip microcomputer or simply a microcontroller unit (MCU).

Regardless of the MCU manufacturer, complexity or throughput, microcontrollers have several things in common:

  • All microcontrollers have a central processing unit (CPU) in charge of executing programs. Computer programs consist of instructions designed to execute arithmetic and logic operations. A CPU can also execute data move and control instructions.

  • Microcontrollers have two different memory types: Random Access Memory (RAM) and Read Only Memory (ROM). RAMs hold variables and alterable data. ROMs hold non-volatile information such as a computer program or setpoints. Different ROM technologies (PROM, EPROM, EEPROM) are available on the market.

  • Microcontrollers are interfaced to I/O devices like push buttons, keypads, Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD), touch screens, relays, etc.

In essence, a microcontroller is very much similar in functionality to a general purpose processor like a Pentium chip. The difference is in scale. A general purpose computer employing a “heavy-duty” microprocessor is capable of executing a large number of programs concurrently through time sharing techniques or via the multi-core technology. A microcontroller generally runs a single program on a single core and is mostly dedicated to handheld devices and dedicated applications. Besides this,

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