You might not realize it, but microcontrollers are absolutely everywhere. Regardless of whether you are driving your car, making a call, browsing your computer, or making a cup of tea, there is going to be a microcontroller involved. With such a reliance on them and this rapidly increasing, they are becoming more and more prevalent. This is why it is vital that you stay up to date on exactly what they are and how they can be used. This article will discuss that in more detail, so be sure to keep reading to find out more about microcontrollers.
What is a Microcontroller?
Let’s start with the basics: what is a microcontroller? A microcontroller (otherwise known as an MCU or Microcontroller Unit) is a single Integrated Circuit (IC) that is generally used for a very specific application and is designed with the intention of implementing different tasks. One of the best examples of how microcontrollers get used is in items that tend to be controlled automatically, such as appliances, computers, engine control systems, and power tools. That being said, a microcontroller’s reach can extend much further than that.
In a general sense, an MCU is responsible for gathering input, processing the information that has been gathered, and then outputting a specific action depending on the information retained. They operate at lower speeds, usually around 1MHz to 200MHz. They need to be designed with the intention of consuming less, given they are embedded inside of other devices, which go on to have larger power consumption in other areas.
Where Can You Buy A Microcontroller
There are many places where engineers and electricians can purchase microcontrollers. For instance, on a website such as Octopart, there are a selection of microcontrollers available with different information on the options, so people can easily choose whichever one is right for them. Often on sites like this, you can learn more about the part itself and discover just how useful it can be to you.
They Have Different Architectures
You will find that not all microcontrollers are equal. They have different architectures, and this can include 8051, ARM, and AVR. The architecture is the internal hardware design, and although not too complex and relatively easy to understand for many, they can differ.
What Components Generally Make Up a Microcontroller
You can view a microcontroller as a small computer. This is because the essential components inside it are very similar. It is made up of:
A Central Processing Unit
The CPU is very important to the design of the microcontroller. It is responsible for the control of all of the instructions/data flow that it receives. Consider it the brain of the entire system, as it is the component that will process all the different data input it receives. The two main components which go into making it are the Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU), which is responsible for performing arithmetic and logical operations, and then also the Control Unit, which handles all of the processor’s instruction executions.
The Random Access Memory
RAM is a term that you have likely heard of before. It is a component that temporarily stores data and allows such data to be accessed quickly. It provides speedy read and writes access to the storage device, which is important when it comes to their use in microcontrollers. This is different from other forms of memory, which usually takes longer for data to become available.
Flash memory is different from RAM. It is a form of non-volatile memory that will retain information even once the microcontroller is turned off. It means that the saved program which you have uploaded onto the microcontroller will have been stored.
A Serial Bus Interface
This is the serial communication within the microcontroller, which sends data one bit at a time. When you use microcontroller boards, they will connect ICs with signal traces, which will then be presented on a printed circuit board.
Input and Output Ports
These ports are crucial as they are what the microcontroller uses to connect real-world applications. Inputs will then receive charges in the real world, including the likes of changes in temperature, motion sensing, push buttons, and more. This input will then go into the CPU, and the CPU will be responsible for deciding what to do with that information. It will know to carry out certain demands depending on specific inputs, and that demand will be sent to the output.
(Only in some cases) Electrical Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory
This is similar to flash memory, but the difference is that when Flash Memory needs to rewrite something, it has to rewrite a whole block. EEPROM is different as it can rewrite any specific byte at a time. This means that the life of the EEPROM is extended.
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