What is the difference between microprocessor and microcontroller?

You must always be confused when you are asked about difference between microprocessors and microcontrollers. As it seems to be same but it’s not.  So let’s discuss about them and point out the major differences between them.



It’s like a small computer on a single IC. It contains a processor core, ROM, RAM and I/O pins dedicated to perform various tasks. Microcontrollers are generally used in projects and applications that require direct control of user. As it has all the components needed in its single chip, it does not need any external circuits to do its task so microcontrollers are heavily used in embedded systems and major microcontroller manufacturing companies are making them to be used in embedded market. A microcontroller can be called the heart of embedded system. Some examples of popular microcontrollers are 8051, AVR, PIC series of microcontrollers,.

Microcontroller architecture

Above is architecture of 8051 microcontroller. And you can see all the required components for a small project is present in a single chip.



Microprocessor has only a CPU inside them in one or few Integrated Circuits. Like microcontrollers it does not have RAM, ROM and other peripherals. They are dependent on external circuits of peripherals to work. But microprocessors are not made for specific task but they are required where tasks are complex and tricky like development of software’s, games and other applications that require high memory and where input and output are not defined. It may be called heart of a computer system.  Some examples of microprocessor are Pentium, I3, and I5 etc.

microprocessor architecture

From this image of architecture of microprocessor it  can be easily seen that it have registers and ALU as processing unit and it does not have RAM, ROM in it.


So, what is the difference between microprocessor and microcontroller?

As now you are basically aware of what is a microcontroller and microprocessor, it would be easy to identify the major differences between a microcontroller and microprocessor. 

1. Key difference in both of them is presence of external peripheral, where microcontrollers have RAM, ROM, EEPROM embedded in it while we have to use external circuits in case of microprocessors.


2. As all the peripheral of microcontroller are on single chip it is compact while microprocessor is bulky.


3. Microcontrollers are made by using complementary metal oxide semiconductor technology so they are far cheaper than microprocessors. In addition the applications made with microcontrollers are cheaper because they need lesser external components, while the overall cost of systems made with microprocessors are high because of the high number of external components required for such systems.


4. Processing speed of microcontrollers is about 8 MHz to 50 MHz, but in contrary processing speed of general microprocessors is above 1 GHz so it works much faster than microcontrollers.


5. Generally microcontrollers have power saving system, like idle mode or power saving mode so overall it uses less power and also since external components are low overall consumption of power is less. While in microprocessors generally there is no power saving system and also many external components are used with it, so its power consumption is high in comparison with microcontrollers.


6. Microcontrollers are compact so it makes them favorable and efficient system for small products and applications while microprocessors are bulky so they are preferred for larger applications.


7. Tasks performed by microcontrollers are limited and generally less complex. While task performed by microprocessors are software development, Game development, website, documents making etc. which are generally more complex so require more memory and speed so that’s why external ROM, RAM are used with it.


8. Microcontrollers are based on Harvard architecture where program memory and data memory are separate while microprocessors are based on von Neumann model where program and data are stored in same memory module.

Comments (1)

  • Ban-navti Bon-naventure's picture
    Ban-navti Bon-n...

    how can you design a door lock system that wil prompt the user to enter password with pic16f877a.

    Aug 21, 2016

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