Difference between microcontroller and microprocessor.

Many modern digital devices include a microcontroller and a microprocessor. What are these electronic components?

What is a microcontroller?

Under a microcontroller is understood as an electronic component containing the main hardware modules necessary for it to perform its functions. Such as, for example:

  • computing chip;
  • ROM module;
  • RAM module;
  • timer;
  • bridges;
  • voltage regulator;
  • input and output ports.

Thus, all relevant components are built-in. A microcontroller, if installed in a computer, most often interacts with other hardware modules of a PC (for example, a hard disk or RAM) directly and does not use unnecessarily modules in a PC that are similar in purpose to those built into the device.

So, thanks to the built-in module responsible for voltage control, the microcontroller does not require adaptation of the external voltage to the power supply characteristics of the internal components and, in general, does not use external components to control the voltage level.

Microcontrollers are usually responsible for some part of computational operations. For example, if they are on a PC, it can be reading and writing data, turning on and off devices connected to the PC. Therefore, their performance is relatively low.

Often the microcontroller is used in devices in which the use of the microprocessor does not make much sense due to its higher cost in most cases. For example, this could be a microwave oven, air conditioner, or a device designed to automatically water plants in the garden. The noted devices usually include the simplest microcontroller in structure.

What is a microprocessor?

Under a microprocessor it is customary to mean a microcircuit, the main component of which is a crystal of silicon or other semiconductor. In fact, it is several times more powerful than the one installed in the microcontroller, the computing chip. But this is where the similarities between the considered types of electronic components end.

Microprocessors, as a rule, do not have a large number of additional components (like microcontrollers) and mainly use external devices in order to perform their functions. These can be RAM modules, voltage regulators or separate power supplies, input and output ports. In principle, these components are the same in purpose as in the case of controllers, but external. However, like the computational chip of the microprocessor itself, in most cases they are more productive than those in the microcontroller.

The processor has few internal modules. As a rule, modern models of electronic components of this type contain a RAM microcircuit - from those types of components that are characteristic of the microcontroller design. ROM, voltage regulator, ports in the microprocessor structure are usually absent.

The main purpose of a microprocessor is complex computational operations. Therefore, as a rule, it has great performance and is installed in those devices, the functionality of which requires it. For example, in game consoles, PCs, mobile devices.


The main difference between a microcontroller and a microprocessor is that in the first component the main modules needed to perform their functions are built-in. The microprocessor, in turn, uses mostly external devices. At the same time, the microcontroller is also able to access their resources if the performance of those that are built-in is not enough. Of course, this is possible only if the corresponding type of external devices are provided in the design of the device in which the microcontroller is used. It happens that they do not exist in principle, and then the efficiency of the device depends on the performance of the microcontroller.

Between the two considered electronic components, as a rule, there is a significant difference in the level of computation speed. A microcontroller in most cases is less efficient than a microprocessor of a similar purpose (if, of course, they are interchangeable in a specific device), since it is designed to perform only a part of computational operations or those that have a very simple structure.

Having determined what is the difference between a microcontroller and a microprocessor, let us fix the conclusions in the table.


Microcontroller Microprocessor
What do they have in common?
The computing chip that is part of the microcontroller can perform functions similar to those of the microprocessor
What is the difference between them?
Mainly uses built-in hardware modules to perform functions.Mainly uses external hardware modules.
Has a relatively low performance, is responsible, as a rule, for part of the computing operations of the device in whichis installed.)It often acts as a more profitable alternative to the processor (if high performance is not required from the microcontroller), but, in principle, can be replaced by itIt is considered a more efficient alternative to the controller, but, as a rule, it cannot be replaced when performing its functions - since the performance of the second may not be enough