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A  is an integrated chip that is often part of an embedded system. The microcontroller includes a CPU, RAM, ROM, I/O ports, and timers like a standard computer, but because they are designed to execute only a single specific task to control a single system, they are much smaller and simplified so that they can include all the functions required on a single chip. A microcontroller differs from a microprocessor, which is a general-purpose chip that is used to create a multi-function computer or device and requires multiple chips to handle various tasks. A microcontroller is meant to be more self-contained and independent, and functions as a tiny,

dedicated computer. The great advantage of microcontrollers, as opposed to using larger microprocessors, is that the parts-count and design costs of the item being controlled can be kept to a minimum. They are typically designed using CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) technology, an efficient fabrication technique that uses less power and is more immune to power spikes than other techniques. There are also multiple architectures used, but the predominant architecture is CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computer), which allows the microcontroller to contain multiple control instructions that can be executed with a single macro instruction. Some use a RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) architecture, which implements fewer instructions, but delivers greater simplicity and lower power consumption.

Embedded applications

Thousands of items that were traditionally not computer-related include microprocessors. These include large and small household appliances, cars (and their accessory equipment units), car keys, tools and test instruments, toys, light switches/dimmers and electrical circuit breakers, smoke alarms, battery packs, and hi-fi audio/visual components (from DVD players to phonograph turntables.) Such products as cellular telephones, DVD video system and ATSC HDTV broadcast system fundamentally require consumer devices with powerful, low-cost, microprocessors. Increasingly stringent pollution control standards effectively require automobile manufacturers to use microprocessor engine management systems, to allow optimal control of emissions over widely varying operating conditions of an automobile. Non-programmable controls would require complex, bulky, or costly implementation to achieve the results possible with a microprocessor.

A microprocessor control program can be easily tailored to different needs of a product line, allowing upgrades in performance with minimal redesign of the product. Different features can be implemented in different models of a product line at negligible production cost.

Microprocessor control of a system can provide control strategies that would be impractical to implement using electromechanical controls or purpose-built electronic controls. For example, an engine control system in an automobile can adjust ignition timing based on engine speed, load on the engine, ambient temperature, and any observed tendency for knocking – allowing an automobile to operate on a range of fuel grades.

Intel 4004

The 4004 with cover removed (left) and as actually used (right)

Main article: Intel 4004

The Intel 4004 is generally regarded as the first commercially available microprocessor,[6][7] and cost $60.[8] The first known advertisement for the 4004 is dated November 15, 1971 and appeared in Electronic News.[9] The project that produced the 4004 originated in 1969, when Busicom, a Japanese calculator manufacturer, asked Intel to build a chipset for high-performance desktop calculators. Busicom’s original design called for a programmable chip set consisting of seven different chips. Three of the chips were to make a special-purpose CPU with its program stored in ROM and its data stored in shift register read-write memory. Ted Hoff, the Intel engineer assigned to evaluate the project, believed the Busicom design could be simplified by using dynamic RAM storage for data, rather than shift register memory, and a more traditional general-purpose CPU architecture. Hoff came up with a four–chip architectural proposal: a ROM chip for storing the programs, a dynamic RAM chip for storing data, a simple I/O device and a 4-bit central processing unit (CPU). Although not a chip designer, he felt the CPU could be integrated into a single chip, but as he lacked the technical know-how the idea remained just a wish for the time being.


In the mid-1980s to early-1990s, a crop of new high-performance Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) microprocessors appeared, influenced by discrete RISC-like CPU designs such as theIBM 801 and others. RISC microprocessors were initially used in special-purpose machines and Unix workstations, but then gained wide acceptance in other roles.

In 1986, HP released its first system with a PA-RISC CPU. The first commercial RISC microprocessor design was released either by MIPS Computer Systems, the 32-bit R2000 (the R1000 was not released) or by Acorn computers, the 32-bit ARM2 in 1987.[citation needed] The R3000 made the design truly practical, and the R4000 introduced the world’s first commercially available 64-bit RISC microprocessor. Competing projects would result in the IBM POWER and Sun SPARC architectures. Soon every major vendor was releasing a RISC design, including the AT&T CRISP,AMD 29000Intel i860 and Intel i960Motorola 88000, DEC Alpha.

As of 2007, two 64-bit RISC architectures are still produced in volume for non-embedded applications: SPARC and Power ISA.

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