What is the Difference Between Microprocessor and Microcontroller?

Microprocessors, microcontrollers, and integrated circuits (ICs) are the building blocks of all electronic devices. They are also said to be the heart and soul of the electronic industry. These devices may sound similar but differ in their properties and functions. Often people fail to understand the difference between microprocessor and microcontroller. The confusion does not end here; microprocessor and CPU difference is another topic of discussion. In this article, we will see the comparison between microprocessor and microcontroller and a detailed explanation of all these terms. Also, you will learn the comparison or difference between IC and microprocessor in detail. Read through this guide to have a better understanding of how they vary from each other.

What is the Difference Between Microprocessor and Microcontroller?

What is the Difference Between Microprocessor and Microcontroller?

Keep reading further to find out everything about the comparison and difference between microprocessor and microcontroller in detail.

What is Microprocessor?

Before knowing the difference between microprocessor and microcontroller, let us learn about microprocessors. A microprocessor is a chip that is said to be the computer’s brain. It is also called the central processing unit (CPU). This single chip can process all the logical and computational information like addition/subtraction, I/O management, and many more. It controls all the system components like USB, I/O devices, monitors, memory, etc. To perform the instructions given by the users, it fetches the data, decodes it from high-level language to machine language, and then executes the given instructions.

What are the Components of Microprocessor?

A microprocessor consists of the following components used to perform the given instructions:

  • Registers: It is the temporary storage location for executing the given instruction. After execution, the data is sent to the source and erased from registers.
  • Arithmetic and Logic Unit: It performs arithmetic and logical operations like mathematical calculation.
  • Timing and Control Unit: Ensures all internal and external components are working together in time and sequence.

How Does a Microprocessor Work?

A microprocessor is a standalone chip connected with external peripherals like I/O devices and memory units to execute a given set of instructions.

  • Input device to pass the information from the user to the memory unit.
  • Memory to retain the information and perform the required function.
  • Output devices to display the results.

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What are the Types of Microprocessors?

Microprocessors are categorized into three types on the basis:

1. Size of Data Bus

According to the size of the data bus, the microprocessor is classified into the following types:

  • 4-bit: These processors have a data path width of 4 bits. They came into use in the early 1970s. Examples of this processor are INTEL 4004 and 4040.
  • 8-bit: These are processors capable of transferring 8-bits of data at the same time. An example of this processor is INTEL 8085.
  • 16-bit: These are processors capable of transferring 16-bits of data at the same time. Examples of these processors are INTEL 8088 and 80286.
  • 32-bit: These processors can transfer 32-bits of data per clock cycle. Examples of these processors are INTEL 80386, 80486, and Pentium.

2. Application

Based on the application of the processor, it is categorized into the following types:

  • General Purpose Processors (GPPs): General purpose processors (GPPs) are meant for common daily applications. For example, desktop computers, mobile phones, INTEL 8085, and Pentium.
  • Microcontrollers (MCU): Microcontrollers (MCUs) are processors with built-in memory units and I/O peripherals designed to execute a particular set of functions. For example, INTEL 8051, washing machines, computer printers, etc.
  • Special Purpose Microprocessor (SPM): Special purpose microprocessor (SPM) is designed to handle a particular operation required for an application. For example, digital signal process, radar, and flight.

Keep reading further to learn the comparison or difference between microprocessor and microcontroller.

3. Architecture

  • Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC): As the name explains, complex instruction set computer (CISC) uses a minimal number of instructions per program. One command performs all the functions like loading, evaluating, and storing. Hence, making the process complex. It disregards the number of cycles per command. Its prime focus is to build complex commands directly to the hardware. INTEL and AMD CPUs are based on CISC features.
  • Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC): Reduced instruction set computer (RISC) was designed as a reaction to CISC in the mid-1980 to minimize the performance time by reducing the computer’s instruction set. Every command needs only one clock cycle to perform the assigned instructions. This requires the RAM to store more instructions and the compiler to convert high-level language commands to binary code more efficiently. A few examples are MIPS, PowerPC, Arm Processors, etc.

What are the Advantages of Microprocessors?

Here is a list of all the advantages of a microprocessor:

  • Cost-effective
  • Built-in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Graphic User Interface (GUI)
  • Portable and high speed
  • Compact in size
  • Versatile and reliable
  • Low power consumption and heat generation

What are the Disadvantages of Microprocessors?

The following are the disadvantages of microprocessor:

  • Require binary language
  • Does not support floating point operations
  • Size of the data
  • Inability to function without external supporting devices
  • Gets damaged with improper power supply
  • Slow single-core processors

What are the Pros and Cons of Microprocessors?

Mentioned below are a few pros and cons of the microprocessor:


  • Quickly moves data to various locations
  • Used for general purpose
  • Capable of performing several tasks at a time


  • Expensive
  • Huge in size
  • Does not have RAM, ROM, or I/O attached to it

Continue reading this article till the end to learn the comparison or difference between IC and microprocessor and between IC and microprocessor.

What is Microcontroller and How Does It Work?

As part of learning the difference between microprocessor and microcontroller, let us know about microcontrollers. A microcontroller is an integrated electronic chronic computing device designed to perform a specific function in an embedded system. It is also referred to as a microcontroller unit or MCU. A microcontroller includes three major components on a single chip: microprocessor, memory unit, and input and output peripherals. These work with the help of supporting devices like timers, analog to digital converters, serial input, and output, and common lines called system bus.

Working Principle:

A single microcontroller chip embedded inside a system ensures the performance of a particular function in a device. This process involves receiving and executing data from input and output peripherals using the microprocessor. The microcontroller receives the temporary information in its data memory, where the processor accesses the information and uses the given instructions from the program memory to carry out the operation. Then, it uses output peripherals to execute the required action.

JAN23 What is the Difference Between Microprocessor and Microcontroller?

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What are the Basic Components of a Microcontroller System?

The main components of the microcontroller are:

  • Microprocessor: It is a single chip that is termed the brain of the device. It carries out arithmetic and logical operations like addition/subtraction, data transfers, I/O operations, and much more. It also enables operations that help communicate instruction to other components in a larger integrated system.
  • Memory: This is the part used as a storage location for the data, which the processor uses to carry out the given instructions.
  • I/O Peripherals: The input ports are a means to receive data and send it to the processor in the form of machine language. The processor carries out the necessary operations and instructs the output device external to the microcontroller for the task execution.

How Many Types of Microcontrollers are There?

Microcontrollers are classified into different types according to the:

1. Width

Bus Width refers to the parallel lines that connect the internal components of the microcontroller. Its primary function is to transfer data between the processor, memory unit, and I/O peripherals. There are three types of buses: data bus, address bus, and control bus. Further, it is classified into three types 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit microcontrollers.

  • 8-bit Microcontroller: 8-bit microcontroller consists of a bus width that is 8-bit wide. This means it can only perform operations that work on 8-bit in a single cycle. Therefore when a 16-bit operation is performed, it takes double the time to execute results that are just simple mathematical calculations. Examples of the 8-bit microcontroller are INTEL 8031/8051.
  • 16-bit Microcontroller: 16-bit microcontroller consists of a bus width that is 16-bits wide. It is said to be more efficient and quicker than the 8-bit microcontroller, as it can transfer and process 16-bit data in a single cycle. It provides the most precise operations for applications that require timer functions. For example, INTEL 8051XA, PIC2X, INTEL 8096, etc.
  • 32-bit Microcontroller: 32-bit microcontroller consists of a bus width that is 32-bits wide. Its performance abilities are better than any other microcontroller. Though its power consumption and cost are higher, its accurate operational capability makes it worthwhile. It supports multiple peripherals like USB, ethernet, control area network bus, etc. An example of a 32-bit microcontroller is INTEL/ATMEL 251 family.

You will get to know the comparison between microprocessor and microcontroller further in this article.

2. Memory

On the basis of memory, the microcontroller is categorized into two types:

  • Embedded Memory Microcontroller: Embedded memory microcontroller consists of all the components embedded together in a single chip. These components include data and program memory, interrupts, timers, counters, etc. Though the memory blocks in microcontrollers are not expandable, a ROM can be used to extend its space.
  • External Memory Microcontroller: External memory microcontroller does not have a memory block embedded in itself. It requires the support of external memory to operate. For example, the INTEL 8031 has no memory chip attached to it.

3. Instruction Set Architecture

According to the instruction set architecture, the microcontroller is classified into two types:

  • Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC): Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC) is a microcontroller meant only to follow one complex instruction. It performs various actions with just one command. It is a compact program that uses large instructions and many address modes. It takes a lot of time to perform the given instructions.
  • Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC): Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) is a microcontroller that was developed in response to CISC. It enables the processing of simpler instruction. It performs one given instruction at a time.

Keep reading further to comprehend the comparison or difference between microprocessor and microcontroller.

4. Microcontroller Architecture

On the basis of microcontroller architecture, the microcontroller is classified into two types:

  • Harvard Architecture Microcontroller: Harvard architecture microcontroller has two different memory interfaces: one for data/variables and the other for programs/instructions. The parallelism of the instruction interface is its selling feature. It is expensive for its sophisticated design.
  • Von Neumann/Princeton Architecture Microcontroller: Von Neumann/Princeton architecture microcontroller uses a single interface for the storage of both data and instructions. Though it takes time to execute the instructions, it is cost-effective and convenient.

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What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Microcontrollers?

A list of all the advantages of the microprocessor is mentioned below:

  • Acts as a microcomputer without any digital parts
  • Easy to use and maintain
  • Cost-effective and compact
  • Performs the given instructions faster
  • Instruction cycle timer
  • Supports the addition of RAM, ROM, and I/O peripherals

List of all the disadvantages of the microprocessor are mentioned below:

  • Complex architecture
  • Inability to handle high-power devices because of slow speed
  • Performs a limited number of functions at a time
  • Used in micro equipment, which is difficult to use
  • Not all microcontrollers have I/O peripherals
  • Composed of a complementary metal oxide semiconductor, it is prone to damage by static charge

What are the Pros and Cons of Microcontrollers?

A few of the pros and cons of microcontrollers are mentioned below:


  • Works on stored power devices
  • Less power consumption
  • Found in regularly used devices


  • Requires a person to be trained as it is meant for a specific purpose
  • They cannot access program memory

Now, let us move on to learn the comparison or difference between microprocessor and microcontroller and between IC and microprocessor.

What is the Difference Between Microprocessor and Microcontroller?

After understanding the microprocessor and microcontroller and their properties, let’s look at the comparison or difference between microprocessor and microcontroller.

Microprocessor Microcontroller
The main part of the computer system Part of an embedded system
It consists only of the memory unit. Hence, additional memory and I/O ports are required It consists of a processor in addition to its internal memory and I/O components
The circuit is large due to the addition of external components The circuit is smaller due to the internally available components
It cannot be used in compact systems because of its inefficiency It can be used in compact systems, as it is efficient
The cost of the entire system is high The cost of the entire system is low
Its power consumption is high, so it cannot work on stored power devices It has low power consumption. Hence, it works on stored power batteries
Do not have power saving mode They have modes to reduce power consumption called idle or power saving mode
It is only used on personal computers It is widely used in washing machines, mp3player, calculators, automobiles
It is based on the Von Neumann architecture It is based on the Harvard Architecture
It works slowly, as each operation requires communication with external components It works faster as the communication is quick because of the components present internally
It is complex, with a large number of instructions It is simple with few instructions
It is used for general-purpose applications It is used for application-specific systems
It has no RAM, ROM, and other I/O peripherals It has a processor, RAM, ROM, and other peripherals embedded in a chip
Systems run at a very high speed Systems run up to 200MHz or more depending on the circuit
It has less number of registers, so the operations are memory based It has more registers, making it convenient to write programs
Examples: INTEL 8085 AND 8086 Examples: Altera, INTEL, NEC, Panasonic, etc

Through this comparison between microprocessor and microcontroller, it is clear that microprocessor is a part of the microcontroller with additional memory, an I/O port, and other peripherals like timers, counters, analog to digital converters, and more. As we read, the microprocessor is also called the central processing unit (CPU). Certainly, it’s much more than the CPU. As you will keep reading, you will come across the difference between IC and microprocessor mentioned in detail.

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What is Central Processing Unit (CPU)?

The central processing unit (CPU) is considered the brain of the computer. It consists of millions of transistors. The microprocessor is the circuit that surrounds the CPU. Let’s understand what a CPU is.

The central processing unit (CPU) is the most important part of the computer system. It is essentially the part of the computer that performs I/O, processing, and storage of data. It carries out the instructions by executing the system’s arithmetic, logical, and input/output operations. A CPU is often mistaken as hardware, but the CPU is embedded in a single chip called a microprocessor. A CPU carries out its operations in four steps:

  • Fetch
  • Decode
  • Execute
  • Write back

Components of the CPU include Arithmetic and Logical (ALU) and Control Unit (CU). ALU performs arithmetic and logical operations while the CU retrieves commands from memory, decodes it, and executes them.

How Microprocessor is Different from CPU?

After learning the difference between microprocessor and microcontroller, let us know about the microprocessor and CPU difference. A microprocessor inculcates all the functions of a CPU on a single chip. This chip is called an integrated circuit (IC). In addition to this, it also consists of I/O and memory access circuits. This chip receives information, processes it according to the directions, and executes the output in binary language.

Microprocessor CPU
It is only the central processing unit It has memory and I/O integrated together
It is used in personal computers It is used in embedded systems
It does not consist of RAM, ROM, I/O, and other peripherals It has RAM, ROM and other peripherals integrated into a chip
An external medium is used to connect RAM, ROM, and I/O peripherals The CPU uses an inbuilt controlling bus
It has a complex architecture that processes a high amount of instructions It has a simple design and requires processing a few instructions

Although it is understood that the CPU is a microprocessor, not all microprocessors are CPUs. A microprocessor is more than the CPU as it contains other processors like a graphics processor unit (GPU), network processing unit (NPU), and audio processing unit (APU). Sound cards and network cards are also embedded in microprocessors. Before understanding the difference between IC and microprocessor, let’s see what is exactly IC.

What is the Integrated Circuit (IC)?

An integrated circuit (IC) is a mini electronic circuit produced on a semiconductor chip. One of the first integrated circuits was created in the 1970s. The constituting components of an integrated circuit are transistors, capacitors, resistors, and diodes. Moreover, it works as an amplifier, microprocessor, microcontroller, oscillator, timer, counter, logic gate, and computer memory.

Here are some features of the IC:

  • Construction and Packaging: It is made of silicon and is small and fragile. Its constituents are bonded into gold and aluminum wires and further cast into a flat box of plastic and ceramic.
  • Size of an IC: It is available in sizes between 1 square mm and 200 square mm.
  • IC Integration: Integrated circuits get their names as they embed themselves into different devices on the same chip. Like, a microcontroller is an integrated circuit that includes memory, microprocessor, I/O ports, and other peripherals in the same device.

You will find the heading further in this article explaining the difference between IC and microprocessor.

How is Microprocessor Different from IC?

After learning the comparison or difference between microprocessor and microcontroller, it is necessary to know the difference between IC and microprocessor. Microprocessors are one type of IC. It is said to be a complex one. A microprocessor imbues the functions of a central processing unit on a single chip. It is designed for a computer application, whereas integrated circuits are general-purpose devices that can be utilized for various applications.

Microprocessors consist of all the components found in an integrated circuit, including memory, CPU, I/O ports, and its nonvolatile storage RAM and ROM. These alone can run software on a computer without the requirement of any supporting device. An integrated circuit cannot function independently as it does have instructions stored in itself. So, this is the difference between IC and microprocessor.


We hope that our article has guided you sufficiently in knowing about the comparison or difference between microprocessor and microcontroller and difference between IC and microprocessor. You can let us know any queries or suggestions about any other topic you want us to make an article on. Drop them in the comments section below for us to know.

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