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Home > Control / MCU > What is the use of microcontrollers in design?

What is the use of microcontrollers in design?

Published time: 2020-02-13 12:38:01

Microcontrollers are small, versatile, and inexpensive devices that can be successfully implemented and programmed not only by experienced electrical engineers but also by amateurs, students, and professionals in other disciplines. The list of microcontroller applications is long, such as low-cost wearable devices, medical devices, high-end consumer electronics, rugged industrial equipment, and state-of-the-art military and aerospace systems. These adaptable, affordable, and user-friendly components are used in almost all electronics. In this article, we discuss the definition of a microcontroller and consider its use in design. 

What is a microcontroller? A microcontroller is an integrated circuit (IC) device used to control other parts of an electronic system, usually through a microprocessor unit (MPU), memory, and some peripherals.These devices are optimized for embedded applications that require both processing capabilities and flexible, responsive interactions with digital, analog, or electromechanical components. The most common way to refer to such integrated circuits is "microcontroller", but the abbreviation "MCU" is used interchangeably because it stands for "microcontroller unit".You may also occasionally see "C" (Greek mu instead of "micro"). "Microcontroller" is a well-chosen name because it emphasizes the characteristics that define this product category.The prefix "micro" means small, and the term "controller" here means enhanced ability to perform control functions.As mentioned above, this capability is the result of combining digital processors and digital memory with additional hardware specifically designed to help the microcontroller interact with other components. Microcontrollers and microprocessors People sometimes use the terms "microprocessor" or "MPU" when referring to microcontrollers, but the two devices are not necessarily the same.


Microprocessors and microcontrollers are small, highly integrated computer systems, but they can be used for different purposes. The term "processor" is used to identify a system consisting of a central processing unit and some storage;A microprocessor is a device that performs all the functions of a processor in a single integrated circuit.In contrast, microcontrollers place more emphasis on additional hardware modules that allow the device to control the system rather than simply execute instructions and store data. In general, using the terms "microprocessor" and "microcontroller" is not a major problem when we speak informally or when we try to avoid saying the same word over and over again.However, in the context of technical discussions, it is important to keep the distinction between the two concepts. Microcontroller and digital signal processor (DSP) A digital signal processor (or "DSP") is a microprocessor that is optimized for demanding computing tasks such as digital filtering, mathematical analysis of real-time signals, and data compression.A highly complex microcontroller can be used as an alternative to a digital signal processor, but it is still considered a microcontroller if a large portion of its internal circuitry is used to control, monitor, and communicate with surrounding systems. 

Elements of a microcontroller The microcontroller consists of a central processing unit (CPU), non-volatile memory, volatile memory, peripherals, and support circuits. Central processing unit The CPU performs arithmetic operations, manages data streams, and generates control signals based on sequences of instructions created by the programmer.The designer cannot see the extremely complex circuitry required for CPU functionality.In fact, because of integrated development environments and high-level languages like C, writing microcontroller code is often a fairly simple task. memory Non-volatile memory is used to store programs for a microcontroller - a list of machine language instructions that tell the CPU exactly what to do.You typically see "Flash" (referring to a particular form of non-volatile data storage) rather than "non-volatile memory." Volatile memory, or RAM, is used for temporary data storage.This data is lost when the microcontroller is powered off.Internal registers also provide temporary data storage, but we do not consider them to be a single functional block because they are integrated into the CPU. peripherals We use the term "peripheral" to describe hardware modules that help the microcontroller interact with external systems.The following points identify the various peripherals and provide examples. Data converter: adc, dac, reference voltage generator Clock generation: internal oscillator, crystal drive circuit, PLL Timing: universal timer, real-time clock, external event counter, pulse modulation Analog signal processing: operational amplifier, analog comparator Input/output: general digital input and output circuits, parallel memory interface Serial communication: UART, SPI, I2C, USB Support circuit Microcontrollers contain various functional blocks that cannot be classified as peripherals because their primary purpose is not to control, monitor, or communicate with external components.

Nonetheless, they are important - they support the internal operation of the device, simplify implementation, and improve the development process. Debugging the circuit allows the designer to carefully monitor the microcontroller as instructions are executed.This is an important and sometimes indispensable way to track errors and optimize firmware performance. Interrupts are a valuable aspect of microcontroller functionality.Interrupts are generated by external or internal hardware-based events that cause the processor to respond immediately to these events by executing a specific set of instructions. Microcontroller programs written in C are organized into functions.The interrupt causes the program to execute "vectors" to the interrupt service routine (ISR), and after the ISR completes its task, the processor returns to the function it was executing when the interrupt occurred. If the clock generation module is used to generate signals that will be used outside the chip, it can be considered a peripheral, but in many cases the primary purpose of the oscillator inside the microcontroller is to provide clock signals for the CPU and peripherals.Internal oscillators are usually of low precision, but in applications that can withstand this low precision, they are a convenient and efficient way to simplify design and save board space. Microcontrollers can contain various types of power supply circuits.

The integrated voltage regulator allows the generation of the required power supply voltage on the chip, the power management module can be used to significantly reduce the current consumption of the device in the inactive state, and the monitoring module can put the processor in the stable reset state high enough to ensure reliable operation when the power supply voltage is unstable.


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