What Is A Microcontroller?

Microcontrollers are a vital piece in the electronic design and development puzzle, made up of a number of components you’re likely familiar with: a processor, memory, timers and some form of input/output. These parts are all combined on a single integrated circuit, at times as small as a grain of rice!

As opposed to desktop computers, Microcontrollers are dedicated, embedded devices, used for a specific task or program. Their small form factor and relatively powerful processing capabilities makes them commonplace in a diverse range of devices, from interfacing with your TV remote to operating your microwave oven.

Once limited to the realms of electronic design and development professionals, there are now thousands of varieties available on the market. And with this? Developers and enthusiasts alike are exploring their staggering variety of uses.

Common Microcontrollers


An M16C Microcontroller

M16c Microcontrollers come in a range of 16 & 32 bit varieties, featuring high ROM code efficiency, ultra low power consumption, and high speed processing.

Its integrated peripherals also makes it a perfect option for a number of electronic development projects and products, including audio equipment, televisions and household appliances.

We’ve used M16C Microcontrollers in projects including:


Atmel's AVR Microcontroller

Advanced Virtual RISC (AVR) Microcontrollers are manufactured by Atmel, first invented way back in 1966. These are based on a modified Harvard architecture, which stores program and data in different spaces, able to both simultaneously.

Coming in 8 and 32 bit variations, they’re built with C programming in mind, and were one of the first to implement on-chip flash memory for storing programs.


Microchip's PIC Microcontroller

Made by Microchip Technology, the PIC family of Microcontrollers are based on the PIC1650, which was originally developed by the Microelectrics Division of General Instruments.

Also called ‘Peripheral Interface Controller’, it comes with 8, 16 or 32 bit data memory. Current PIC models use flash memory, which is a far cry from the days when they were limited to ROM or EPROM.

PIC’s re-programmable memory and relatively low cost makes them a popular option for electronic developers and hobbyists alike. This popularity has resulted in an abundance of documentation, notes, tutorials and low cost development tools that continue to fuel its growth in popularity.

We’ve used PIC Microcontrollers in projects including:


STMicroelectrics STM32 Microcontroller

Based on the ARM Cortex-M series of processors, STM32 are 32 bit flash microcontrollers. Developed by STMicroelectrics, they offer high performance coupled with low power usage.

STM32 comes in a variety of versions, including STM32F0, STM32F1 and STM32L1, each suited for a variety of electronic development projects and products.

The F0, for example, are used in a range of home entertainment products, due to their high-end features and flexibility. While the L1 is designed for ultra low power applications, thanks to its dynamic voltage scaling. This makes it perfect for small form factor & low power devices.


Texas Instruments MSP430 Microcontroller

Developed by Texas Instruments, the TI range of microcontrollers are available in 16 and 32 bit variations. Broken up into three distinct lines: low-power, performance, and wireless.

This range includes the MSP430 family, which is similar to PIC 8bit microcontrollers in terms of its peripheral set, and its low power consumption.

Not only does this make them a versatile option for wearable and sensor projects, but they’re also the world’s only microcontroller to include embedded FRAM. A new, non-volatile memory technology.

The Texas Instruments range also includes more powerful options, which support advanced features like Digital Signal Processing (DSP). Making them the perfect candidate for projects where more grunt is required, including industrial drives and motor control.

We’ve used TI Microcontrollers in projects including:

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Frequent Asked Questions (FAQ) on Microcontroller Design & Development

How Do I Find A Manufacturer Who Can Produce My Microcontroller Design?

Are you searching for an electronics design company or manufacturer? Your choice will ultimately come down to whether you intend to design a new microcontroller and architecture from the ground up, or whether you’re simply looking to re-purpose an existing design within a new application, project, or custom-designed electronic product.

With a team like the one we have at Electronic Partners, our highly skilled engineers are able to tackle either of these scenarios head-on, in order to help you through the electronic design and development process, and take your concepts from the idea to reality, and every step along the way.

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Which Microcontroller Brand Or Part Should I Use For My Lower Power Embedded Design?

Depending on the electrical characteristics of the project you have in mind, you’ll need to consider everything from operating voltage through to typical current consumption rates when choosing the right microcontroller for the job.

This is a complex process which, as a general rule of thumb, takes into account a number of specific factors such as those listed above. Consideration also needs to be given to other general specifications including price, speed, memory, the tools at hand, as well as any compatibility requirements or future needs.

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Microcontroller Development Or Evaluation Board – What’s The Difference?

Microcontroller development and evaluation boards both fulfill two very different roles within electronic product design and development.

The first, a development board, features a number of in-built components such as an LCD display, keypad, RTC, motor driver ICs, SD card slots and Ethernet ports. With less time spent fiddling with connections, jumper wires, and cables, electronics developers are able to focus on the design process without fiddling with standalone components.

In comparison, an evaluation board is usually limited to the most basic of components, including just a few switches and one or two LEDs. More complex components like keypads and Ethernet ports must be purchased on their own, and then connected to the evaluation board via jumper wires and breadboards.

As a result, these boards often cost less than their more complex and feature-complete counterparts, setting a far lower – and cheaper – barrier of entry for beginners and DiY electronic enthusiasts alike.

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Want to know more about microcontroller development and design? Contact us or give us a call on + 64 (9) 419 6474.