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Published by aravind86

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Published by: aravind86 on Dec 02, 2008
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What is an embedded controller?Hah! Why not ask an easy question like "Did Adam have a navel?" or"Did Eve?"Simply (and naively stated) an embedded controller is a controllerthat is embedded in a greater system. A rigid definition isdifficult if not impossible to formulate, since the usual response is"most embedded controllers are...". The problem here is "most". Wecan't seem to shake that word from the definition. No matter howclever you feel your definition is, some wiseguy will come along andfind an exception, or two, or 50.You COULD say that an embedded controller is a controller (orcomputer) that is embedded into some device for some purpose otherthan to provide general purpose computing. Of course, someone willeventually prove you wrong, but who cares?A common example of a general purpose computer, would be a typical PCclone. The x86 processor in this machine can't really be consideredan embedded controller, since the machine is typically used forgeneral purpose computing. However, what is general purposecomputing? Take this same PC clone, turn it into a multi-mediamachine, and voila! You have an appliance - much on the order of amicrowave oven or television. Is the x86 processor now considered anembedded controller Or, is the PC clone itself now considered anembedded controller, controlling the multi-media peripherals? Hey -I don't know about you, but I'm getting too old for this nonsense.Is a microcontroller an embedded processor? Is an embedded processora microcontroller? What's the difference between an embeddedprocessor and a microcontroller? Well, today - not much. With thecontinuing process of high scale integration continuing at a dizzyingpace, many standard architecture processors are turning up asmicrocontrollers. A few such examples are the Motorola 68EC300,Intel 386 EX, and the IBM PowerPC 403GB. These chips could be calledsuper-microcontrollers.So, what's the difference between an embedded processor and amicrocontroller? I wouldn't touch that question with a ten footlogic probe.We might be safe by stating that an embedded processor controlssomething (for example controlling a device such as a microwave oven,car braking system, or a cruise missile). Is this always true?Maybe. Maybe not. You know, it just doesn't end.The main thing is not to get to hung up on precise definitions.Black and white? Hell no, we've got grey scale, dithering,diffusion, you name it! Same thing goes here with embeddedcontrollers, just go with the flow. It all depends on your point ofview.Alright, if you really must insist, we'll take a stab at definingwhat an embedded controller is - realize however that there will bemany exceptions. Embedded controllers adhere to a philosophy similarto that of microcontrollers, high integration. By including [many]features necessary for the task at hand, an embedded controller
(processor) can be a powerful yet cost effective solution. However,where a microcontroller [almost by definition] is a computer on achip, an embedded controller might need external components before itis considered a "computer." This is especially true regarding RAM.Since including large amounts of RAM (megabytes) on a processor isnot really practical (due to cost and available silicon real estate)and because many embedded controllers are real powerhouses requiringlarge amounts of RAM, the RAM is often external to the processor.ApplicationsIn addition to the above home monitoring system, embedded processorsand microcontrollers are frequently found in: appliances (microwaveoven, refrigerators, television and VCRs, stereos), computers andcomputer equipment (laser printers, modems, disk drives), automobiles(engine control, diagnostics, climate control), environmental control(greenhouse, factory, home), instrumentation, aerospace, andthousands of other uses. In many items, more than one processor canbe found.Microcontrollers are typically used where processing power isn't soimportant. Although some of you out there might find a microwaveoven controlled by a Unix system an attractive idea, controlling amicrowave oven is easily accomplished with the smallest ofmicrocontrollers. On the other hand, if you're putting together acruise missile to solve the problem of your neighbor's dog barking at3 in the morning, you'll probably need to use processors with a bitmore computing power.Embedded processors and microcontrollers are used extensively inrobotics. In this application, many specific tasks might bedistributed among a large number of controllers in one system.Communications between each controller and a central, possibly morepowerful controller (or micro/mini/mainframe) would enableinformation to be processed by the central computer, or to be passedaround to other controllers in the system.A special application that microcontrollers are well suited for isdata logging. Stick one of these chips out in the middle of a cornfield or up in a ballon, and monitor and record environmentalparameters (temperature, humidity, rain, etc). Small size, low powerconsumption, and flexibility make these devices ideal for unattendeddata monitoring and recording.FlavorsEmbedded processors come in many flavors and varieties. Depending onthe power and features that are needed, you might choose a 4, 8, 16,or 32 bit microcontroller. Standard microprocessors (such as theMotorola 68000 or National 32032) are frequently used as powerfulembedded controllers. In addition, specialized processors areavailable which include features specific for communications,keyboard handling, signal processing, video processing, and othertasks.

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