Understanding the difference between Microprocessors and Microcontrollers

Almost all the electronics we find around us come with a common thing, which is the brain of the device. Yes, you got it right. It should either be a microprocessor or a microcontroller. Though these two components might seem to work in the same way, they are not actually the same. Moreover, due to the differences between the two, they are used in different fields, as well. Our high-end computers, laptops have a microprocessor at its core. While other small electronics like digital clocks, temperature sensors come with a microcontroller at its core.

Thus, microprocessors are used for some advanced electronics, while the microcontrollers are used in the low-end electronics and embedded systems. That is the difference between the two, in a nutshell. But there are other differences between the two, as well. Apart from the differences in implementation, there are differences between microprocessors and microcontrollers in architecture, price, the way they work, and many other aspects. If you are planning to make an electronic project, you should understand the difference between the two to recognize the most suitable one for your project.

So without further delay, let’s get started with the differences.


There is a lot of difference between microprocessors and microcontrollers in architecture.

The microcontrollers are based on the Harvard architecture, where the program code and the data reside in two different units. Apart from that, microcontrollers are ready-to-use chips, where the palm-sized chip comes with the processing unit, the RAM, for temporary storage of data, the ROM. Thus, you don’t have to worry about connecting a RAM, storage or ROM. Most microcontrollers are based on the 8-bit architecture. Just burn the program onto your microcontroller, attach the peripherals, and your microcontroller will be ready to use.

On the other hand, a microprocessor is based on von Neumann architecture, where the program data and code stays in the same memory. The chip itself comes only with the processor. It requires an external RAM, storage, and ROM to work properly. Though the microprocessors come with some registers, that is very limited and is used to keep a very small amount of data, which might be necessary by the chip, while doing some kind of operation. The microprocessors are generally based on 16-bit, 32-bit or 64-bit architectures. Thus, you need to connect the RAM, ROM, and storage first to make it functional, and it is after that, you can add other necessary peripherals.

microprocessors and microcontrollers

Architecture is the main difference between the two, and it is only because of that, other differences come into the picture.

Some examples of microcontrollers are AVR, 8051, PIC etc. Some microprocessors are Intel 8085, AMD, etc.


As the microcontrollers do not require interfacing of other external peripherals, the size of the microcontroller based systems are pretty small and are used in embedded systems and small electronics extensively.

On the other hand, the microprocessor-based systems require interfacing of additional components, which make the size of the circuit really big. It is the reason behind the extensive use of microprocessors in computers and other such electronics.


As microcontroller is a single integrated circuit, the cost of microcontroller based systems is comparatively cheaper, if compared to the systems, which are based on microprocessors.


Microcontrollers typically have a worse performance compared to that of microprocessors. Even the best microcontrollers, which you can find, will have maximum clock speeds of 200 MHz or so. While on the other hand, microprocessors come with very high clock speeds, which are at the range of 3 GHz, 4 GHz, etc.


Microcontrollers are single integrated circuits, which come with a fixed amount of RAM, storage. If you want to increase or change the size of the RAM and storage, the only option is to replace the complete microcontroller and use a different one, which comes with your desired amount of RAM and storage.

On the other hand, microprocessors require additional RAM and storage for functioning. Thus, you are at liberty to change the size of the RAM and storage, whenever you want, without changing the complete microprocessor, which is the heart of the system. It is similar to a computer, where the RAM and storage can be changed whenever necessary.

Thus, microprocessor-based systems offer more flexibility, if compared to the microcontrollers.

Power consumption

Microcontrollers being single IC based platforms, the power requirement is comparatively less than microprocessors, where power is required for all the additional peripherals, which are connected to it. Thus, microcontrollers offer better power saving features compared to that of microprocessor-based systems.


Microcontroller being a single IC with all the necessary peripherals, you will not have to go through the tenuous task of finding the best memory module, which is supported by it. That is the problem with microprocessor-based systems, where choosing an incorrect memory module can ruin the complete project. Thus, microcontroller-based systems are less complex to set up.

That was all about the differences between microprocessors and microcontrollers. Hope you have taken your decision about which one to choose in your next electronic project! But if things are not yet clear to you, let me help you a bit more. Microcontrollers being less efficient, you can use it for projects, which do not require great performance, do not require upgrade any time soon. While on the other hand, if you are looking for a great performance, and your project require a lot of decision making, microprocessor-based systems are great. Due to flexibility, it won’t be a big trouble for you to upgrade the system and add some advanced peripherals in the future.

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Hope the information about the difference between microprocessors and microcontrollers is clear to you now. Have questions? Let me know about it in the comment section down below.