Difference between Microprocessor and Microcontroller

For beginners in electronics, microprocessors and microcontrollers may seem to be perplexing. Both of them have been designed for real-time applications and they share many common features while at the same time they have significant differences. Both the IC’s – i.e., the microprocessor and microcontroller cannot be distinguished by looking at them, however, if one understands their hardware and architecture they can be easily told apart.

Let’s get an understanding of how these two differ and talk about their features to get a better idea.

Difference between Microprocessor and Microcontroller

Microprocessor vs Microcontroller

IC of a microprocessor only has a CPU inside it. IC of a microcontroller has CPU, RAM, ROM, and other peripherals as well.
It is the heart of the computer system. It is the heart of the embedded system.
Memory and Input-Output components are connected externally here. Memory and Input-Output components are present internally here.
It is a processor. It is a controlling device.
They are used by the users for general-purpose tasks. They are used for application-specific tasks.
Cannot be used in a compact system Can be used in a compact system
Microprocessor is inefficient A microcontroller is more efficient than a microprocessor.
It is very bulky. It is compact.
Most operations here are memory-based as a microprocessor has less number of registers. It is easier to write a program here as more number of registers are available.
The overall cost of a microprocessor is high due to external requirements. Microcontrollers- designed by using complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor technology. They are thus far cheaper than microprocessors.
It has a zero status flag. It has no zero status flag.
Popular microprocessors are Intel core i7, AMD Athlon, Broadcom BCM2711 (Raspberry Pi). Some popular microcontrollers are  ATmega328 (Arduino UNO), STM32, PIC16F877A, AVR.
Microprocessors are always preferred for complex tasks Tasks performed by microcontrollers are less complex
Processing speed of 1GHz. Processing speed of 8 MHz to 50 MHz
Along with external devices that are connected, microprocessors generally there is no power saving system so they tend to use more power. Microcontrollers have a power-saving system so they use less power.
They are based on Harvard architecture. They are based on the von Neumann model.
Can be used in personal computers. Can be used in washing machines, air conditioners, etc.

What is microprocessor?

The microprocessor also called the heart of a computer system is an IC designed to perform general-purpose digital computations. It doesn’t have RAM, ROM, and other peripherals on the chip and thus depends on external peripherals and circuits to work. Microprocessors are based on the von Neumann model where program and data are stored in the same memory module and the clock speed of the Microprocessor is quite high as compared to the microcontroller.

It is the controlling unit for a micro-computer and performs Arithmetic Logical Unit (ALU) operations along with communicating with the other devices connected with it. It is fast and used where tasks are complex and tricky like the development of software, games, PC and other applications. Here they require high memory and input and output are not defined. It can execute several tasks at a time and is generally used where intensive processing is required.

Here the task is not fixed and it depends on the user, thus can be assigned to any task at a time.

There are 3 types of microprocessors- 8 bit, 16 bit and 32 bit. Considering the ALU of the microprocessor is operating on 8-bit data in one cycle then it will be an 8-bit microprocessor and so on respectively.

What is microcontroller?

The microcontroller is just as its name read, a small computer on a chip used to control devices. They are generally used in places where direct control by the user is necessary. It is optimized in such a way that it can be used to control automated electronic devices and is dedicated to performing a particular task and executing one specific application at a time.

It contains a processor core, ROM, RAM, and I/O pins dedicated for performing various tasks and is referred to as the heart of embedded systems. It is called so as a microcontroller does not require any external circuits to do its task as all components required are already present on the single chip. This makes it very popular in embedded systems.

As the technology of microcontroller advances, many new features are added on the chip day by day. One must understand their requirements and the services provided by the respective microcontrollers to decide which will be the best suited.


Shriya Upasani
MIT World Peace University


1. https://www.javatpoint.com/microprocessor-vs-microcontroller
2. https://www.electronicsforu.com/technology-trends/learn-electronics/difference-between-microprocessor-and-microcontroller
3. https://www.engineersgarage.com/tutorials/difference-between-microprocessor-and-microcontroller/
4. https://www.guru99.com/difference-between-microprocessor-and-microcontroller.html

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