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Microcontroller or Microprocessor: Which is Right for Your New Product?

Microcontroller or Microprocessor: Which is Right for Your New Product?

Just about any new electronic product requires some sort of “brain”. The question though is what type of brains does your product need? There are two choices: a microcontroller unit (MCU) or a microprocessor unit (MPU).

Selecting the correct option is one of the most important first steps to developing your new electronic product. You can get the best microprocessor and microcontroller products of 

A microcontroller purchased from adesto technologies via contains a central processing unit (CPU), memory, and peripherals all embedded in a single chip. An MCU is a highly integrated computer chip designed to mostly stand independently without the need for external support chips.

The central processing unit inside of a microcontroller is essentially the same as a microprocessor. So fundamentally a microprocessor is just a CPU. On the other hand, an MCU includes a CPU plus memory and peripherals so:

Microprocessor (MPU) = CPU

Microcontroller (MCU) = CPU + Memory + Peripherals

The first rule to remember is that whenever it is possible, use a microcontroller! Only consider a microprocessor if it is absolutely required. I estimate that probably 90% of the product ideas that are presented to me can be best served with a microcontroller.

Only about 10% of products are really complex enough to warrant a faster microprocessor.

Although, there will be some applications that are best served with both a microcontroller and a microprocessor. For instance, an advanced robot with artificial intelligence, facial recognition, speech processing, and a complex graphical user interface will require a fast microprocessor.

On the other hand, the robot also needs to incorporate sensors and motors. Those functions are best controlled by a microcontroller separate from the core microprocessor. The microcontroller will act as a subsystem that interfaces with the microprocessor.