An Introduction to Microcontrollers

Microcontrollers are electronic devices that are part of the microcomputer family. Fabricated with VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) technology, microcontrollers are available in 4 bit, 8 bit, and all the way up to 64 and 128 bit options. Microcontrollers can be found in almost every electronic application imaginable, ranging from home applications to traffic lights, from office tools to children’s toys.

A microcontroller is comprised of several parts. They are as follows:

  • The CPU: The CPU (Central processing unit) operates in a word length ranging from 4-bit to 64-bit or higher. The CPU fetches, decodes, and executes instructions that it receives from other parts of the computer.
  • Memory: Microcontrollers feature storage space for several different types of memory depending on the needs and usage of the microcontroller. Typical types of memory used in microcontrollers include RAM (Random Access Memory), ROM (Read Only Memory), EPROM (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) and EEPROM (Editable Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory). Memory also allocates a certain amount of flash memory to store program source code.
  • Timers and counters: Constituent parts of a microcontroller used in operations where modulation, clock functions, and frequency generation are important.
  • Analog to digital converters (ADCs): Converters are used when converting the output of an analog signal into a digital format. A common application of this technology is in sound equipment, specifically in microphones and other pieces of equipment that pick up and measure audio signals.
  • Digital to analog converters (DACs): The inverse of an ADC, a digital-to-analog converter turns digital signals into analog ones, which can be used to control analog equipment motors, speakers, and thermostats.

The greatest strength of microcontrollers is that they mount all their integral parts on a single chip. This design makes microcontrollers more compact, easy to install and maintain, and makes them cheaper as well. However, microcontrollers also have a relatively complex architecture, and they are not suitable for interfacing directly with high power devices.

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