Microprocessors vs. Microcontrollers: Meaning & Differences Explained

Microprocessors vs. Microcontrollers: Meaning & Differences Explained
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We often think of microprocessors and microcontrollers as being the same thing, and many people use them interchangeably. But experts in these fields understand that there are clear differences between them, even though they share some features. 

Besides helping you understand the difference between microcontroller and microprocessor devices, we’ll define microprocessors and microcontrollers in simple terms. You can also see some real-life examples of microprocessors and microcontrollers at the end of this article.

What is a Microcontroller?

A Microcontroller is a single Integrated Circuit (IC) programmed to carry out a set of instructions for a particular purpose. Microcontrollers have a wide range of uses beyond just automating the operation of products and equipment such as appliances, power tools, automotive engine controls, and laptops.

A microcontroller basically takes in data, processes it, and then sends out a message telling another device what to do based on what it has learned. Typically, microcontrollers work at slower speeds, between 1MHz and 200MHz.

They must be made to use as little power as possible since they are often integrated into larger equipment.

What is a Microprocessor?

A microprocessor is a piece of electronics that computers use to do computation. It's the brains of the operation, and it lives on an integrated circuit chip along with millions of other tiny parts like resistors and transistors,

Within the 20th century, some microprocessors needed more than one chip. Everything from managing elevators to doing Internet searches relies on microprocessors. Computer programs specify how a computer should behave, and microprocessors execute these programs countless times every second.

Difference Between Microcontrollers and Microprocessors

The components of modern microprocessors and microcontrollers are quite similar. However, they are not identical in terms of their function and application. Let's compare and contrast how these two terminologies are really used in the real world.

Computing Performance

When it comes to sheer computational capability, microprocessors are in a league of their own. Clock speed nowadays may go up to 4 GHz. This makes it possible for microprocessors to effectively run calculations at high speeds. There are no limits for microprocessors once they are coupled with the proper peripheral and external devices.

Unlike other processors, microcontrollers can't do as much or as fast because they are small. This is because their main job is to do the same basic things. This makes them the most affordable choice for their purpose, and they usually run at much slower speeds than microprocessors. Of course, a hardware development company can use both of these devices.


Microcontrollers often have a lower price tag than microprocessors. Microprocessors are generally designed for higher-end devices that will rely on auxiliary components to boost performance. They are also substantially more complicated than microcontrollers since they are designed to handle a wider range of computing tasks. Because of this, modern microprocessors need a reliable external memory to do more complicated computations.

Microcontrollers allow engineers to develop and generate code for an app and then upload it to the device, which already has all of the essential computing functions and elements to run the code. Because they are used for fewer specific tasks, microcontrollers often need less memory and computing power. This is why they are cheaper.


The external memory of microprocessors allows you to build your own customized system and makes updates easy. This also lets you adjust the system's RAM and ROM to the user's needs in terms of capacity and performance.

But with microcontrollers, the CPU and memory are both built onto a single chip. Because of this, the microcontroller can usually hold no more than 2 MB of data in its flash memory. Here, since the memory and CPU are tightly linked, it's possible that memory operations are quicker than microprocessors.

Operating System (OS)

Microprocessors are general and so need elaborate operating systems in order to do even the most basic tasks. Operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, Linux, Apple Mac OS X, and Google's Android need a microprocessor. Because of this, it's clear that a sophisticated piece of software is required to run the microprocessor-based system.

On the other hand, microcontrollers may execute their applications directly in the device's firmware without a full-fledged operating system. Therefore, microcontrollers are often suitable for simple, repetitive tasks since they are simple to program. Real-time operating systems (RTOS) are compatible with various high-level microcontrollers, making it possible to implement a more sophisticated control system.

Energy Consumption

Using little power is one of the best things about microcontrollers. A computer processor that only does one thing needs less speed, so it uses fewer watts than a processor that can do a lot of different things. 

For example, you may need to constantly connect a high-power processor to a wall outlet or an additional power source, whereas a low-power processor can operate for a long period on a single battery charge. If you only need a small amount of computing power, a microcontroller may be a better choice than a microprocessor, which uses a lot more power to do the same job.


Microcontrollers are processors that are made for embedded development services. In these systems, they determine how the system works and connects to its surroundings. They perform well in real-time situations that need little power consumption. On the other hand, microprocessors serve as the central processing units for a broad variety of computing devices, from desktop PCs and servers to mobile phones and tablets.

Different Microcontroller Types

Now that you understand the microcontrollers' definition, it’s best to understand different microcontroller types as well. We’ve categorized them based on size.


Toys, tiny gadgets, and remote controls are popular uses for this basic kind of microcontroller. Although they are not as powerful and have less storage space, they are cheap and easy to use.

In tasks that don't need lightning-fast computations, they can reach acceptable clock speeds. For large datasets, like 16 bits, it takes numerous cycles to do a simple mathematical operation. The overall performance of the logic circuit suffers as a consequence.


Compared to an 8-bit microcontroller, they are more accurate and faster. It's a complete system with a processor, memory, and other parts that can be built into any other system. It improves both data and computation management simultaneously. Compared to an 8-bit microcontroller, their clock speed is higher and they use fewer watts.


Because their data bus is larger, such microcontrollers can complete tasks in fewer cycles. They outperform all others in terms of performance and accuracy, but they are also quite costly and have a high power consumption. Video game consoles, multimedia players, and sophisticated factory automation systems all use these 32-bit microcontrollers.

Different Microprocessor Types

Now, it’s time for microprocessors. Instead of size, we categorize them based on function. There are many different types, but we’ve only focused on five here:

CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computer)

CISC microprocessors are optimized for running programs with a small number of instructions. An example of a complicated instruction would be any arithmetic operation or reading from memory, both of which need numerous instructions. Because there are many addressing modes in a set alone, the big size of the instruction set means that it takes more than one machine turn to run a particular instruction.

DSP (Digital Signal Processor)

These are the microprocessors made specifically for handling data from signals like radar, sonar, cameras, etc. They can do parallel processing, meaning they can handle many signals simultaneously. These microprocessors are analog-to-digital converters. After that, they undergo digital processing, including filtering, compression, and utilizing algorithms.

RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer)

This is made to carry out basic commands. The number of steps has been cut down to about 30–40. Instructions are made easier to follow so that they can be run faster. The format and size of these directions are set and can't be changed. The instruction takes one clock cycle to finish, so it needs more memory and code to be saved.

IOP (Input/Output Processor)

In a computer, these are the specialized processors that are responsible for controlling and managing the input-output operations. They are not like CPUs in that they just handle the I/O peripherals, although they possess direct memory access. IOP is responsible for carrying out operations after being given instructions to do so by the CPU.


Such microprocessors are one of the biggest hardware innovations in the computer world. They are designed to speed up the generation of images. A graphics processing unit (GPU) is made up of a graphics processor and other necessary components including cooling parts and RAM. They outperform CPUs because they can run many instructions simultaneously. Video game consoles, mobile devices, and desktop computers all have GPUs.

Applications & Examples of Microcontrollers

Microcontrollers are prevalent in modern electronics. There must be a microcontroller chip inside any car or other equipment that does measurements, control, calculation, storage, or display.

Microcontrollers have widespread use in industry, particularly in the automotive sector (where they are used for tasks like managing the engine). In addition to computers, keyboards, printers, and numerous other peripherals all use microcontrollers. Adding features like the ability to store data, create and save user routines, and show notes and patterns is easy with microcontrollers in a variety of equipment.

Microcontrollers are used in a broad range of other items as well, such as cameras, optical players, LCD/LED displays, etc.

Applications & Examples of Microprocessors

Because it is cheap, uses little power, is light, and can be used in many areas, a microprocessor makes your everyday life easier. There are many examples of microprocessors in homes and businesses.

You can use microprocessors in many different parts of your home, including microwaves, TVs, ovens, stoves, washing machines, video game consoles, dishwashers, and many more. With a controlled thermostat, you can change the temperature in your home. The sensor and the microprocessor interact with one another to find the right temperature and change it as needed.

They play a big role in cars, trucks, elevators, traffic management devices, surveillance systems, and many of the latest hardware and software trends. On top of that, a bigger example of microprocessors is in the medical field. For example, microprocessors usually regulate insulin pumps by taking and analyzing data from biosensors and providing accurate, reliable results.


What’s the difference between microcontroller and microprocessor devices?

In contrast to a microcontroller, which integrates the CPU, memory, and input/output into a single chip, a microprocessor merely includes a CPU. While a microprocessor is sophisticated and costly, it processes numerous instructions, a microcontroller just has to execute a limited number of instructions.

Microprocessors vs. microcontrollers: Which is better?

There's usually no definitive answer here because it depends on your specific needs. While microprocessors are more popular in desktop computers, laptops, servers, traffic lights, and defense systems, microcontrollers are often found in consumer electronics like dishwashers, CCTV cameras, keyboards, etc.

Microprocessors vs. microcontrollers: Which is faster?

Microprocessors can do tasks significantly more quickly than microcontrollers. Above 1 GHz is the typical clock speed of modern microprocessors. Microcontrollers, on the other hand, often run at 200MHz or faster depending on their design.

What are their general use cases?

Microprocessors are better for general computing tasks that need to do more complicated and flexible computing processes, while microcontrollers are better at specific low-power tasks which makes them perfect for embedded systems. If you still have more questions, you can always contact the LANARS team for support.