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Microprocessor Specifications & Microcontrollers


a computer's CPU used to occupy a large room or multiple cabinets. However, with advancement in technology, the physical size of CPU has reduced and it is now possible to place a CPU on a single microchip only. A processor (CPU) which is implemented on a single microchip is called microprocessor. Nowadays, almost all the CPUs are microprocessors. Hence, the terms are used synonymously for practical purpose. 

Microprocessor is a small-sized electronic component inside a computer that carries out various tasks involved in data processing as well as arithmetic and logical operations. These days, a microprocessor is built over an integrated circuit comprising millions of small components like resistors, transistors and diodes.

Microprocessors have evolved over time in terms of their increased processing capability, decreasing physical size and reduced cost. Currently available microprocessors are capable of processing millions of instructions per millisecond. 

Microprocessor Specifications 

Microprocessors are classified on the basis of different features which include chip type, word size, memory size, clock speed, etc. These features are briefly explained below: 

(A) Word Size 

Word size is the maximum number of bits that a microprocessor can process at a time. Earlier, a word was of 8 bits, as it was the maximum limit at that time. At present, the minimum word size is 16 bits and maximum word size is 64 bits. 

(B) Memory Size 

Depending upon the word size, the size of RAM varies. Initially, RAM was very small (4MB) due to 4/8 bits word size. As word size increased to 64 bits, it has become feasible to use RAM of size upto 16 Exabytes (EB). 

(C) Clock Speed 

Computers have an internal clock that generates pulses (signals) at regular intervals of time. Clock speed simply means the number of pulses generated per second by the clock inside a computer. The clock speed indicates the speed at which the computer can execute instructions. Earlier, it was measured in Hertz (Hz) and Kilohertz (kHz). But with advancement in technology and chip density, it is now measured in Gigahertz (GHz), i.e., billions of pulses per second. 

(D) Cores 

Core is a basic computation unit of the CPU. Earlier processors had only one computation unit, thereby capable of performing only one task at a time. With the advent of multicore processor, it has become possible for the computer to execute multiple tasks, thereby increasing the system’s performance. CPU with two, four, and eight cores is called dual-core, quad-core and octa-core processor, respectively.


The microcontroller is a small computing device which has a CPU, a fixed amount of RAM, ROM and other peripherals all embedded on a single chip as compared to microprocessor that has only a CPU on the chip. The structure of a microcontroller is shown in Figure 1.9. Keyboard, mouse, washing machine, digital camera, pendrive, remote controller, microwave are few examples of microcontrollers. As these are designed for specific tasks only, hence their size as well as cost is reduced. 

Because of the very small size of the microcontroller, it is embedded in another device or system to perform a specific functionality. For example, the microcontroller in a fully automatic washing machine is used to control the washing cycle without any human intervention. The cycle starts with the filling of water, after which the clothes are soaked and washed; thereafter the water is drained and the clothes are spin dry. The simple use of microcontroller has permitted repetitive execution of tedious tasks automatically without any human intervention, thereby saving precious time.