A Guide to Processors

A processor is a chip or logical circuit that processes and responds to instructions to drive a computer. The main functions of a processor are fetching, decoding, executing, and writing back the operations of an instruction. Processors can be used in any system that incorporates computers, laptops, smartphones, embedded systems, and more. The two main components of a processor are the Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU), and Control Unit (CU). The ALU performs the mathematical operations of the computer while the control unit operates like traffic control, managing the commands or operations of an instruction. The processor also communicates with other input/output devices and memory/storage devices. There are five types of general-purpose processors: microcontroller, microprocessor, embedded processor, digital signal processor (DSP), and media processor. This blog will analyze each type and its unique characteristics.


The microprocessor is a general purpose processor most commonly used in embedded systems. There are many varieties of microprocessors made by companies such as Dell, Samsung, Intel Corporation, and others. Microprocessors consist of a control unit, ALU, and registers such as scratchpad registers, control registers, and status registers. Some microprocessors feature an on-chip memory and some interfaces for communicating with external devices. These include interrupt lines and many other lines for the memory and ports to communicate. The ports are often programmable ports, meaning they can be programmed to act as an input or output.

The five types of microprocessors are the DSP, ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit), RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing, CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing), and SuperScalar Processor.


A microcontroller is an integrated circuit designed to perform specific functions within an embedded system. They are essentially a computer that comes in various packages and sizes. The basic function of a microcontroller is to read inputs and respond with outputs. This function is known as General Purpose Input Output, or GPIO. The most common microcontrollers are the Microchip Atmega328-AU, Microchip P1C16F877A-I/P, Microchip P1C16F1503-I/P, Microchip P1C16F671-I/SN, and Microchip P1C18F45K22-I/P.

Embedded Processor

An embedded processor is a type of processor designed to control mechanical and electrical functions. They feature several parts, namely the processor, timer, interpret controller, program memory & data memory, power supply, reset & clock oscillator circuits, system application-specific circuits, ports, and interfacing circuits.

Digital Signal Processor

The digital signal processor, or DSP, is a processor used to measure, filter, and/or compress digital and analog signals. The signal processing involves the analysis and manipulation of a signal, a process done via computer or a digital signal process to obtain a clear signal. DSPs are used in oscilloscopes, barcode scanners, smartphones, printers, and more. DSPs are fast processors, making them ideal for use in real-time applications including speech processing, image processing, medical processing, biometric processing, seismology, and radar.

Media Processor

The final type of general-purpose processor, media processors, are designed to address data in real time. The most common applications of media processors are voice-user interfacing and professional audio applications. Among the most popular media processor models are TN2302AP IP, IN2602 AP IP, DM3730, DM3725, DM37385, DM388, TMS320DM6467, TMS320DM6431, and others.

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