A microcontroller is a self-contained system with peripherals, memory and a processor that can be used as an embedded system. Most programmable microcontrollers that are used today are embedded in other consumer products or machinery including phones, peripherals, automobiles and household appliances for computer systems. Due to that, another name for a microcontroller is “embedded controller.” Some embedded systems are more sophisticated, while others have minimal requirements for memory and programming length and a low software complexity. Input and output devices include solenoids, LCD displays, relays, switches and sensors for data like humidity, temperature or light level, amongst others.
Microcontrollers are used in automatically controlled products and devices, such as automobile engine control systems, implantable medical devices, remote controls, office machines, appliances, power tools, toys and other embedded systems. By reducing the size and cost compared to a design that uses a separate microprocessor, memory, and input/output devices, microcontrollers make it economical to digitally control even more devices and processes. Mixed signal microcontrollers are common, integrating analog components needed to control non-digital electronic systems.
Some microcontrollers may use four-bit words and operate at frequencies as low as 4 kHz, for low power consumption (single-digit milliwatts or microwatts). They will generally have the ability to retain functionality while waiting for an event such as a button press or other interrupt; power consumption while sleeping (CPU clock and most peripherals off) may be just nanowatts, making many of them well suited for long lasting battery applications. Other microcontrollers may serve performance-critical roles, where they may need to act more like a digital signal processor, with higher clock speeds and power consumption.
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