A microcontroller is a computer-on-a-chip, or, if you prefer, a single-chip computer. Micro suggests that the device is small, and controller tells you that the device might be used to control objects, processes, or events. Another term to describe a microcontroller is embedded controller, because the microcontroller and its support circuits are often built into, or embedded in, the devices they control. You can find microcontrollers in all kinds of things these days. Any device that measures, stores, controls, calculates, or displays information is a candidate for putting a microcontroller inside. The largest single use for microcontrollers is in automobiles ,just about every car manufactured today includes at least one microcontroller for engine control, and often more to control additional systems in the car. In desktop computers, you can find microcontrollers inside keyboards, modems, printers, and other peripherals. In test equipment, microcontrollers make it easy to add features such as the ability to store measurements, to create and store user routines, and to display messages and waveforms. Consumer products that use microcontrollers include cameras, video recorders, compact-disk players, and ovens. And these are just a few examples.
A microcontroller is similar to the microprocessor inside a personal computer. Examples of microprocessors include Intel’s 8086, Motorola’s 68000, and Zilog’s Z80. Both microprocessors and microcontrollers contain a central processing unit, or CPU. The CPU executes instructions that perform the basic logic, math, and data moving functions of a computer. To make a complete computer, a microprocessor requires memory for storing data and programs, and input/output (I/O) interfaces for connecting external devices like keyboards and displays. In contrast, a microcontroller is a single-chip computer because it contains memory and I/O interfaces in addition to the CPU. Because the amount of memory and interfaces that can fit on a single chip is limited, microcontrollers tend to be used in smaller systems that require little more than the microcontroller and a few support components. Examples of popular microcontrollers are Intel’s 8052 (including the 8052-BASIC, which is the focus of this book), Motorola’s 68HC11, and Zilog’s Z8.