All About Microcontrollers

When designing embedded applications for the operation of automobile engine control systems, office machines, power tools, medical devices, and other such systems, a microcontroller is a component that is paramount for such assemblies. As a small computer placed onto a MOS integrated circuit, a microcontroller functions with the use of its processor cores, memory, and peripherals. As devices that are capable of governing parts of a larger component without the need of an operating system, understanding how microcontrollers function can be useful for various types of manufacturing and system design.

When embedded within a system, a microcontroller manages a single device function by interpreting data received by the input and output peripherals. As data is stored within memory, the central processor will then decipher instructions in order to execute an operation. This communication is made possible through the input and output peripherals, allowing for actions to be carried out as needed. While somewhat simple in operation, multiple microcontrollers may work together within a single device to ensure proper intended functionalities.

The central processor, or CPU, serves as the brain of the device in the fact that it translates incoming instructions and executes them. In order to function properly, the processor must utilize arithmetic, input/output, and logic operations. As data is received by the microcontroller, the memory serves to store instructions and may respond to any directions given by the processor. Program memory is one main type, and it stores long-term information regarding CPU processes. As a type of non-volatile memory, program memory is not lost upon losing power. Data memory is the other type that is used for temporary data storage for instructions while actions are executed. Unlike program memory, data memory is volatile and will be lost upon losing power. In order for the microcontroller to communicate with other components within the system, it utilizes input and output peripherals that receive information, relay it to the processor as binary data, and then send instructions to output devices when data is analyzed.

Despite those three elements serving as the primary components of the microcontroller, there are other supporting elements that may frequently be found alongside such devices. With an element known as an analog to digital converter, analog signals are converted into digital signals so that the microcontroller may better communicate with sensors and other analog devices. For the outgoing signals, a digital to analog converter is then used so that analog signals may be sent out for executing operations. To connect all components together, the system bus serves as a connective wire that permits communication and transfers. In order for external components to be connected to the microcontroller, a serial port may be used.

Depending on the need, a microcontroller may have a processor that is 4-bit, 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit, or 64-bit. Additionally, microcontrollers can also take advantage of various volatile memory hardware in order to increase their capabilities. For the availability of microcontrollers, there are many types that may be used for an application including products developed by Intel, Renesas Electronics, and Texas Instruments. When choosing a device for your system, important factors to consider include cost, speed requirements, architecture, needed external communications, and more.



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March 18, 2021

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