Robotics – Microcontroller ? Microprocessor ? or Microchip? - Samuel A

Robotics – Microcontroller ? Microprocessor ? or Microchip?

by on Aug.10, 2011, under Electronics, Microprocessors, Picaxe

Robotics - Microcontroller vs. Microprocessor vs. Microchip

Difference between Microcontroller , Microprocessor and Microchip

I know I promised to talk about the individual PICAXE microcontrollers from Revolution Education Ltd., and to go into detail on the features of each of their products, and I will… However, it was brought to my attention that there is some confusion about the differences between these three terms; microcontroller , microprocessor , and microchip ,… what they each mean,… and if they are interchangeable terms. This was Something I was confused about when I first started down this exciting road of robotics and electronics. It is easy to forget back then, (Not that I am an expert by any sense of the word) but we all have different levels of experience. The best advice I was given in the beginning was to just ask questions and not be afraid. There is always someone who knows more than you, just as there probably is someone who knows less than you. Most forums are great and the people more than willing to help out a newbie. 😉

So what is the difference between these three terms; microcontroller , microprocessor , and microchip?

Well, to be quick and to the point a microchip is a small piece of semiconductor material carrying many integrated circuits. Basically ANY ‘Chip’, or ‘IC’, is a Microchip. It is the broad category that describes and encompasses these devices. For example an Op-Amp, Memory chip, a microcontroller, a microprocessor, a timer such as the popular 555, and many more. They come in many different packages, such as SMD (surface mount device), MSOP (Micro Small Outline Package), SOIC (Small Outline IC Package), SIP (Single-In-Line Package), and many, many, MANY, more! The most popular package however is the DIP, or Dual-In-Line Package. This is the kind you see in the main picture of this article. It is breadboad friendly, sockets for the different pin sizes are cheap and readily available, and generally, at least in my own opinion, the easiest to use. I use DIP microchips almost exclusively. I always look for a microchip (or commonly called ‘chip’ or ‘IC’) in this package type first before settling on an other package type.

So if both microcontrollers and microprocessors can be called microchips, what is the difference between them? Well, basically, microprocessors are CPUs (Central Processing Units), and they can process data. That’s it. Whereas microcontrollers (sometimes abbreviated µC, uC or MCU) are much more in that they are a combination of a CPU, with memory (RAM, ROM, EPROM, or EEPROM), and programmable input/output peripherals, all in one neat single package or device. Basically an entire computer on a chip! Refer to my article ‘Robotics -Intro To Microcontrollers’ for more info. These Peripherals are devices that also have other functions that allow for interfacing between the microcontroller and other devices, such as; input/output pins, analog to digital converters, digital to analog converters, and more. In my blog posts and articles I’ll be focusing on microcontrollers, and just what all we can do with them. For more info on the PICAXE microcontroller refer to my article ‘Robotics – Intro To PICAXE’.

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