Introduction To Single-Board Microcontrollers

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Electronics and Computer Industries, using microcontrollers are expanding day by day. What is new today will be history tomorrow.We see iPods, Stereo Systems, Television Sets, Digital Cameras, Microwave Ovens, Cells phones, Power control devices, LED illuminating devices, Traffic Signal Systems, Room Automation Systems all around us. All these things have one thing in common, i.e they have a microcontroller embedded in their PCB chips. A vital component which controls them. So today we will introduce you to Single-Board Microcontroller. 

Let us first understand what a microcontroller is and how is it different from a Single-Board Microcontroller ? 

A Microcontroller is the brain of an electronic device, It is like a CEO to company.It is an electronic component which directs and controls the electronic device in which it is embedded to carry out the function it is designed  for correctly and precisely. Microcontroller is made up of two words, “Micro” which means Extremely Small and “Controller” which means regulator. A microcontroller also referred as MCU is just a computer, extremely small in size which is fabricated on a single chip. When this same MCU is built on a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) it forms the Single Board Microcontroller.

The PCB provides the circuitry necessary for management and command tasks.

Now the question arises if a Single-board Microcontroller is just a computer then how is your computer different?

  1. A Personal Computer is a large device which consists of output devices like monitor, keyboard, Mouse and CPU. On the other hand a Single-Board Microcontroller is an extremely small device consisting of just the memory, processor, RAM and Input/output Peripherals like a dedicated input device (not always) and a LEDs/Seven Segment Display for output.
  2. A personal computer can carry out several functions and that too at same time. We can play computer games, Surf the internet, make spread sheets and presentations and carry out various different activities at once. It is a multipurpose and multitasking device. Whereas, a Single Board Microcontroller carries out only one task and runs a specific program. For example in a  microwave microcontroller takes one input from the keypads, shows the output on the seven segment display screen and controls the microwave generator by turning it on/off. Hence it has a dedicated purpose.
  3. A personal computer Is a High power consuming device, consuming 60-250 watts whereas a Single-Board microcontroller consumes power in single digit watts, which is extremely small as compared to computers. 
  4. Personal computers are far costlier than the small and inexpensive Single-Board Microcontrollers, the cost of components of microcontroller are minimized as they are manufactured in bulk.

Surprisingly, Well Yes! You can also call your personal computer a microcontroller if it has all the properties that it has.

What are the parts of a Single-Board Microcontroller?

It consists of a memory (RAM and ROM), a processor (CPU) and programmable input/output to which external devices like LED/Seven Segment Display/Code-Converters can be connected.It also consists of a Bus which is a set of wires used to transmit data from one part to another.

 

Parts of Microcontroller and DataFlow

Parts of Microcontroller and DataFlow

 

 

  • Memory: The function of the Memory is to store data. A MCU can have 8 bit, 16 bit or 32 bit memory.
  • CPU:  Carries out all the mathematical functions and move the data from one register (memory location) to another.
  • I/O Peripheral: I/O unit consists of numerous ports through which data is inserted and taken out of the MCU, just like input/output. 
  • Bus: A Bus is a bunch of wires (8/16), of two types, address and data bus, transmits address from CPU memory and connects all blocks of the Single-Board Microcontroller respectively.

Earlier Microcontroller Boards were programmed by assembly languages like C and PL/M but nowadays, Boards manufactured by companies like Raspberry Pi Foundation, Arduino, Dwengo are programmed on open source platforms which are cross combinations of various assemblers like C,C++ and Java, even Linux(free and open source software development platform). Single-Board Microcontrollers are extensively used by Engineers, Hobbyists, Enthusiasts, Electronics-Lovers and Artists to generate innovative, interactive and synergistic equipments and surroundings.

If you are interested in playing with Single-Board Microcontrollers, you can easily purchase various interactive kits from their websites at economical rates.

What are the various Single-Board Microcontrollers you can buy and start exploring this new world?

 Arduino 

Arduino is an open source single-board microcontroller which makes electronics in multidisciplinary projects more attainable. The hardware consists of a simple open source hardware board designed around an 8-bit Atmel AVR single chip microcontroller, or a 32-bit Atmel ARM single chip microcontroller. The software consists of a language compiler and a boot loader. The Software can be downloaded from their website.There are various types of Arduino Microcontroller Boards available depending upon the need. For example, Arduino UNO, Arduino Nano, Arduino Bluetooth, Arduino Mega, Arduino Mini and many more. Each one has different characteristics and size. different Applications can be developed by anyone who has little interest in Microcontrollers. 

Credits: Ian Hughes

Photo Credits: Ian Hughes

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a single-board microcontroller/minicomputer developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to boost the use of basic computer science in high-schools.

The Basic Model A is based on Broadcom BCM2835 SoC(System on the Chip), including 700 MHz ARM1176JZF-S core Processor (CPU), 1 USB Port and 256Mb RAM costing 25$

The Higher Model B, has 2 USB Ports and 512Mb RAM costing 35$. It also consists of a Ethernet port.

The Raspberry Pi uses a Linux operating system. Later in 2012 Debian derived Raspbian operating System was released.  Even Android OS can be installed in Raspberry Pi Hardware and used.

Microcontroller Boards seem so enticing and attractive, Buy one and you will learn a lot of things you never knew you could ever do!

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About Author

Anirudh Kannan is an Almost-Engineer,Self-Proclaimed Novelist, Blogger and a Big Foodie! Has passion for Content writing and Photography! Respects Sarcasm! Loves Dimpy, Cooking, Visiting restaurants, trying out different cuisines from all over the world and keeping track of science and technological advancements! HIMYM and Cricket Lunatic! Twitter Handle: @Real_Anirudh Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anirudhkannankinu

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