Embedded Systems: microprocessors and microcontrollers

An embedded system is a type of computer that can perform a few specialized tasks. This design is contrary to the normal computer designed to perform many operations that are unrelated to each other in many cases. Embedded systems are present in many of the devices used today and act as their control units. The main issue with embedded systems is their optimality in terms of cost, space and power consumption, etc., as there is no focus on increasing the functionality of the device. The term embedded system can thus, be used to refer to devices that perform certain specific functions and cannot be used to perform others by loading applications on them.

Typical features of embedded systems

  • Many of the embedded systems have several hardware restraints as they have to process real-time inputs and be safe to use. Others may not have some of these constraints, and thus, a reduction in the cost of the hardware used is possible.
  • The term embedded system does not refer to isolated devices but rather, they are a part of the device they control or perform some other task in.
  • The software that is used in embedded systems is usually termed firmware. The same is stored in disk drives or ROMs as an embedded system usually lacks a full-fledged hard disk drive.

Many times, Embedded systems do not have a user interface as they are designed to perform only a single task. Simultaneously, some other devices similar to embedded systems such as PDA have a completely user-friendly interface.


The simple embedded systems usually consist of buttons and LED components to input the data and show the output, respectively. On the other hand, complex embedded systems have touch screens, large amounts of buttons, etc., for input, output, etc. To accommodate this large amount of buttons, they are usually placed at the edge of the screen.

Engineers have successfully used the internet to provide individuals with an interface to remote embedded systems. Thus, a single system can be used by many users at different locations.

Processor types in embedded systems

In general, embedded systems can be classified into two types: microprocessors and microcontrollers. Microprocessors usually perform a single or minimal set of tasks. In many cases, a single microprocessor may not be of any use at all. On the other hand, microcontrollers can perform several operations and thus, can execute a complete task. They can be considered as extended versions of a microprocessor.

Microprocessors are used in various areas of technology. For example, they are present in the cellular phones that we use. They are also used in mp3 players, refrigerators, microwaves, remote controls, printing devices, GPS receivers, etc.

Thus, embedded systems have become indispensable in today’s world, and daily human activity (as it is today) without them is practically impossible.


  1. is there any microprocessor which is compatible with any type of microcontroller irrespective of type of microcontroller? A generic microprocessor? Please do let me know.unbeamtur

  2. They can be considered as extended versions of a microprocessor.

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