Core of Embedded System — Microprocessors | Microcontrollers | DSP

The IoT Academy
3 min readSep 13, 2023


In today’s fast-paced technological world, embedded systems play a major role in powering an extensive range of devices we interact with daily, from smart appliances and wearable gadgets to industrial machinery and automotive systems. These specialized systems lie in three essential components of the embedded system: microprocessors, microcontrollers, and digital signal processors (DSPs). These elements form the core of the embedded systems, dictating their functionality, efficiency, and capabilities.

The core of the Embedded System

The architecture of embedded systems is centered on a central core and is domain- and application-specific. It falls into the following categories:

  • Microprocessors
  • Microcontrollers
  • Digital Signal Processors


A microprocessor is a central component of a computer system that performs arithmetic and logic operations, controls input and output operations, and manages data storage and retrieval. It is essentially the brain of a computer or other digital devices.

A microprocessor is a single VLSI chip that contains a processor. In addition, it may have other units such as buses, an arithmetic unit for floating point processing, and pipeline units to help process instructions faster. The fetch and boot cycle of the previous generation of microprocessors was driven by a ~1 MHz clock speed. The processors now run at 2 GHz.


Microcontrollers are compact integrated circuits designed to serve as the brains of various embedded systems and electronic devices. Unlike general-purpose microprocessors, microcontrollers are tailored for specific tasks and applications. They typically include a central processing unit (CPU), memory, input/output pins, timers, and often various peripherals like analog-to-digital converters, communication interfaces (e.g., UART, SPI, I2C), and pulse-width modulation (PWM) controllers.

Microcontrollers are commonly found in devices such as microwave ovens, washing machines, remote controls, automotive systems, and countless other gadgets where they execute predefined tasks with efficiency and low power consumption.

Digital Signal Processors(DSPs)

Digital Signal Processors (DSPs) are specialized microprocessors designed to efficiently process digital signals in real time. They excel at performing mathematical operations on streams of data, making them essential in applications such as audio and video processing, telecommunications, radar systems, and more. DSPs are optimized for tasks like filtering, encoding, decoding, and transforming signals, often with a focus on high-speed data processing and low power consumption.

Unlike general-purpose microprocessors, DSPs are designed to handle repetitive, numeric-intensive tasks, and they often feature multiple multiply-accumulate (MAC) units and specialized instruction sets to accelerate these operations. Their ability to manipulate and enhance digital signals makes them indispensable in modern electronic devices and communication systems.

The core of the embedded systems — microprocessors, microcontrollers, and DSPs — forms the foundation upon which modern technology thrives. Each type of core serves a distinct purpose, offering a spectrum of capabilities that can be harnessed to power an array of devices. These are the heart and soul of various electronic devices that we encounter daily, from smartphones and smart appliances to automotive control units and industrial machinery. As these components evolve, embedded systems will continue to shape the world around us, driving innovation and enhancing our daily lives.


In conclusion, the core of the embedded system is the fundamental component that defines its functionality and purpose. Embedded systems, which permeate our daily lives, are powered by microcontrollers or specialized microprocessors that serve as their computational heart. These embedded cores efficiently execute specific tasks, often in real-time, making them crucial in applications ranging from consumer electronics to industrial automation and automotive systems.

These systems are designed to perform dedicated tasks with precision and efficiency. In recent years, the advent of multi-core embedded systems has revolutionized the landscape, enabling even greater processing power and multitasking capabilities within the confines of compact embedded devices.



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