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Microcontrollers are chip-targeted microprocessors. They are designed to be low power, self-sufficient, and low cost. This allows for economic control of multiple processes within an embedded system. Microcontrollers integrate RAM and non-volatile memory on the same chip as the CPU, using fewer pins.

It is typical to examine the peripherals and architecture when designing in a microcontroller. Besides the CPU and memory, microcontrollers commonly include UARTs, serial communication interfaces (e.g. I²C, SPI, CAN), and true peripherals (watchdog timers, event counters, PWM generators). Microcontroller architectures also vary widely; a common example is the Harvard architecture, which allows for concurrent access of instructions and data from separate memory buses. Microcontrollers may also integrate oscillators and ADCs, many support ISP and on-chip debug via JTAG, and some augment the compiler with a simulator and/or interpreter firmware.

Masking may be used to lower costs of high-volume microcontroller designs. The non-volatile memory (ROM, EPROM, EEPROM or Flash) stores the programs (including interrupt handlers) and operating parameters. These stored contents are set in the last step of chip manufacture (“mask programming”), though this limits in-field update possibilities


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