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Microprocessor vs. Microcontroller: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 9, 2023
A microprocessor is the central unit of a computer handling logic and arithmetic operations; a microcontroller is an integrated circuit designed for specific tasks in embedded systems.

Key Differences

A microprocessor primarily functions as the brain of computers, executing program instructions and managing operations. On the other hand, a microcontroller is a compact integrated circuit, often encompassing a processor, memory, and input/output peripherals, designed for specific control applications.
In terms of architecture, the microprocessor focuses on computational capabilities and speed, optimized for tasks like data analysis, graphics rendering, and multitasking. Conversely, the microcontroller aims to deliver precise control functions, commonly found in appliances, vehicles, and robotics.
When considering application areas, microprocessors are typically seen in personal computers, laptops, and servers. In contrast, microcontrollers dominate spaces where dedicated tasks are essential, such as washing machines, microwave ovens, or anti-lock braking systems in cars.
Complexity and power consumption also set these two apart. While microprocessors are complex and may consume more power to handle advanced computing tasks, microcontrollers are designed to be power-efficient, given their role in battery-operated devices or continuous running machines.
Cost is another distinguishing factor. Generally, microprocessors are more expensive, attributable to their superior computational prowess and multitasking capabilities. Meanwhile, microcontrollers, tailored for specific functions, tend to be more cost-effective for manufacturers.

Comparison Chart

Primary Function

Execute program instructions
Control specific tasks in embedded systems


Central processing unit only
CPU, memory, I/O ports in one IC

Common Applications

PCs, servers, workstations
Appliances, robotics, vehicles

Power Consumption

Typically higher
Generally power-efficient


Generally more expensive
More cost-effective

Microprocessor and Microcontroller Definitions


A chip handling logic and arithmetic operations in systems.
Advances in microprocessor technology have fueled the growth of the tech industry.


A dedicated circuit for specific tasks in embedded systems.
The smart thermostat uses a microcontroller to regulate home temperatures effectively.


Heart of a computing device facilitating program execution.
The new gaming device boasts a state-of-the-art microprocessor for enhanced gameplay.


An all-in-one IC with a processor, memory, and I/O functionalities.
The remote control operates using a simple microcontroller to send signals.


Central unit in computers managing computations.
The speed of your computer largely depends on its microprocessor.


Integrated device commonly used in automation and appliances.
The washing machine's microcontroller ensures your clothes undergo the correct wash cycle.


Integrated circuit responsible for processing data and tasks.
The latest laptops feature a microprocessor that optimizes both power consumption and performance.


A specialized IC designed for precise control functions.
Modern drones utilize microcontrollers for stable flight and navigation.


The electronic circuit executing instructions from a computer program.
The smartphone's efficient microprocessor ensures multitasking without lags.


Compact unit combining processing, memory, and control operations.
The car's anti-lock braking system is managed by a microcontroller for safety.


An integrated circuit that contains a major processing unit of a computer on a single microchip, such as the central processor or the graphics processor.


A microcomputer on a single chip, used to control some device such as an automobile engine or a toy.


(computer hardware) the entire CPU of a computer on a single integrated circuit (chip).


Integrated circuit semiconductor chip that performs the bulk of the processing and controls the parts of a system;
A microprocessor functions as the central processing unit of a microcomputer
A disk drive contains a microprocessor to handle the internal functions of the drive


What is the main function of a microprocessor?

Its primary function is to fetch, decode, and execute program instructions, performing operations on data.

What are cores in relation to microprocessors?

Cores are independent processing units within a microprocessor, enabling multitasking and parallel processing.

What is a microprocessor?

A microprocessor is an integrated circuit that executes computer program instructions in computing and data processing.

Are microprocessors software?

No, microprocessors are hardware, physically present in electronic devices.

What does CPU stand for?

CPU stands for Central Processing Unit, another name for a microprocessor.

Who developed the first microprocessor?

Intel developed the first microprocessor, the Intel 4004, in 1971.

What’s the significance of microprocessor speed?

The speed, often measured in GHz, determines how fast the microprocessor can process data and execute instructions.

Are microprocessors limited to computers?

No, microprocessors are used in various devices like phones, appliances, and industrial machinery.

What languages are used to program microcontrollers?

Microcontrollers can be programmed using languages like Assembly, C, and sometimes C++, depending on the application and controller.

Can I upgrade a microprocessor?

Yes, you can upgrade microprocessors in many devices, though compatibility and technical skills are required.

What is a microcontroller?

A microcontroller is a compact integrated circuit designed for specific control applications in embedded systems.

How is a microcontroller different from a microprocessor?

Unlike microprocessors, microcontrollers have memory and peripherals embedded, making them ideal for specific control applications.

Can microcontrollers be programmed?

Yes, microcontrollers can be programmed to perform specific control tasks in electronic applications.

Can a microcontroller run an OS (Operating System)?

Generally, microcontrollers do not run OS due to their specific control-oriented application, but some complex MCUs can run simplified operating systems.

Can microcontrollers interface with sensors?

Yes, microcontrollers can interface with sensors, gathering data to make control decisions in embedded systems.

What are microprocessor generations?

Generations refer to the evolution phases of microprocessors, distinguished by size, speed, and technology used.

Where are microcontrollers used?

Microcontrollers are used in numerous devices such as washing machines, cars, and medical devices for specialized control.

How do microcontrollers communicate?

Microcontrollers can communicate using various protocols like UART, SPI, and I2C, among others.

Is a microcontroller an MCU?

Yes, MCU stands for MicroController Unit, which is synonymous with microcontroller.

Do microcontrollers have built-in memory?

Yes, microcontrollers typically have built-in memory and I/O peripherals to control other devices.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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