What is a microcontroller? Working, Components, Advantages and disadvantages

Image by KRITSADA JAIYEN from Pixabay

What is a microcontroller:

A microcontroller may be defined as a compact microcircuit designed to control a particular operation in an embedded system or internet of things application. A typical microcontroller consists of a processor, memory, and input/output (I/O) peripherals on one chip.

Image by KRITSADA JAIYEN from Pixabay

Microcontroller Purpose and uses:
Sometimes observed as an embedded controller or microcontroller unit are found in autonomous vehicles, AIOT (Artificial intelligence of things) robots, workplace machines, medical and healthcare devices, mobile radio transceivers, peddling machines, and residential appliances, among alternative devices. Microcontrollers are used in systems that are automatically controlled. Some of these systems are automobile control systems, remote controls, autonomous cars, and industrial robots. They are basically easy miniature personal computers (PCs) designed to manage tiny operations of a bigger partwhile not a fancy front-end software system (OS).

A microcontroller may be a little pc on one metal-oxide-semiconductor microcircuit integrated chip. In a fashionable word, it’s the same as, however, less subtle than, a system on a chip; an SoC (system on chip) could embody a microcontroller joined of its elements. A microcontroller contains one or a lot of CPUs (processor cores) alongside memory and programmable input/output peripherals. Program memory within the variety of ferroelectric RAM, NOR is flash or OTP (one time programmable) read-only storage additionally typically enclosed on-chip, also like a little quantity of RAM. Microcontrollers are designed for embedded systems, in distinction to the microprocessors employed in personal computers or alternative general-purpose applications consisting of varied distinct chips.

Inside a microcontroller: Microcontroller Components

A microcontroller, which is a single chip has many components embed on it. Some of the essential components are given below

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU)
  • Random-Access Memory (RAM)
  • Flash Memory
  • Serial Bus Interface
  • Input/Output Pins (I/O Pins)
  • Electrical Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory (EEPROM)

Let us discuss the functioning of each part

Central Processing Unit (CPU):

The central process unit (CPU) or microprocessor, is that the unit that performs most of the process within a microcontroller. It processes all instructions received by the software system running on the board and by alternative hardware elements and acts as a robust calculator.

To manage instructions and data flow to and from alternative elements of the microcontroller, the electronic equipment depends heavily on a chipset, which could be a cluster of microchips set on the motherboard. This is also known as a microprocessor or chip.

The control unit acts as an Associate in Nursing intermediator that decodes the instructions received by the processor, tells the opposite units like the Arithmetic Logic Unit (below) what to try and do by giving control signals, then sends the processed data/instructions back to memory.

RANDOM ACCESS MEMORY: Random access memory is some sort of hardware device that permits instructions to be stored and retrieved by a microcontroller. This is called Random access memory as data or instructions are accessed randomly not in sequences such as in CD or other disks. It is temporary and volatile memory and requires power for operation. If power is lost at some moment, data stored in them will be lost. There are several types of rams are available in the market such as DRAM, SRAM, etc.

FLASH MEMORY:  This is a non-volatile memory used for storing and transferring data between a personal computer (PC) and embedded devices. It can be electronically reprogrammed and erased. It is often used in USB flash drives, digital cameras, and solid-state drives. In microcontrollers, this type of memory is used for storing the application code.

Intel C1103
Thomas Nguyen / CC BY-SA 

Flash memory uses floating-gate transistors for storing data. Floating-gate transistors, used mostly in amplifying and switching, are isolated electrically and act as floating nodes in direct current.

It is a wire bus interface for connecting devices like processor on board, ADC (Analogue to digital converter), DAC (Digital to analog converter), and I/O peripherals in embedded systems. It is the sole duty of microcontroller to interface with other devices such as sensors, actuators, and internal components. So, it requires some sort of infrastructure to communicate data and instructions. The serial bus interface is some sort of these infrastructures for communication in the microcontroller.


Microcontrollers are mostly used in combination with sensors and actuators. These sensors and actuators can be analog or digital. So, these I/O ports provide the interface for connecting these devices to the central processor via the serial bus interface.


EEPROM which stands for electrically erasable programmable read-only memory is some sort of non-volatile memory, used in microcontrollers, for storing small data, in which individual bits can be removed or changed. An EEPROM encompasses a restricted life for erasing and reprogramming, currently reaching 1,000,000 operations in trendy EEPROMs. In Associate in Nursing EEPROM that’s often reprogrammed, the lifetime of the EEPROM is a vital thought.

A pic by Flickr

Advantages of Microcontroller:

There are many advantages of microcontroller some of which are given below:

Less time: Microcontrollers are very fast (But slower than microprocessors). They require very little time to perform operations. The latest microcontrollers such as raspberry PI (can be microcontroller or processor depend on need) has a speed of 1.4 GHz which means it can run 1.4 billion instructions in 1 second.

Flexible: These microcontrollers are very much flexible. Once you use it for one application, you can easily use it for other purposes by a little bit change in coding.

Small Size: Due to advances in VLSI, the size of the microcontroller has reduced a lot and its features have increased a lot.

Easy Interfacing: These microcontrollers can easily interface with other devices, additional memory (RAM, ROM) and I/O peripherals depend on needs.

Real-time processing: These microcontrollers provide real-time interfacing of data thus reducing the needs of humans.

Disadvantages of Microcontroller:

Several disadvantages of the microcontroller which are given below

High Power Devices:

These microcontrollers are unable to interact with high power devices directly. As they have limited 3.3 to 5V at I/O pins and limited current through the bus. Therefore, we have to use some external batteries to interface with high power devices.

Complex structure:

It has a much more complex structure as compared to microprocessors. As these contain additionally I/O pins, RAM, ROM, and serial bus interface, etc.

Limited Execution:

These microcontrollers can perform limited no. of instruction execution simultaneously.

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