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Microcontrollers: An Introduction

Mark A. Strain, PE

Course Outline

Microcontrollers and microprocessors whether seen or unnoticed are an integral part of everyday life. You quite possibly encounter hundreds everyday. Everyday items that you may or may not think of contain one or more of these tiny devices: your electric toothbrush, television, the remote control for your television, children’s toys, cell phones, and the dozen or so processors in your car for the engine electronic control system, GPS, radio system and electronic compass are a few examples.

The purpose of this course is to describe at a high level different microcontroller architectures and to discuss the components of the central processing unit and how the components interact. This course also describes the differences between a microcontroller and a microprocessor and discusses a microcontroller’s instruction set and presents a few examples. This course presents different peripherals, how they are used and how they interact with the central processor.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

At the conclusion of this course the student will learn:

Intended Audience

This course is intended for all engineers.

Benefit to Attendees

Attendee of this course will be able to understand the basics of microcontrollers and microprocessors.

Course Introduction

Microcontrollers and microprocessors whether seen or unnoticed are an integral part of everyday life from the time you get up in the morning to the time you retire at night. You quite possibly encounter hundreds everyday.

Think about your day. Your alarm clock that woke you up contains a processor that controls the display, the clock and the radio. Your coffee maker that came on at a preset time contains a processor that controls the clock as well as your electric toothbrush that alerted you when to recharge the battery. The smart phone that you picked up to check your email and messages contains a handful of processors: one to control the display, keypad and user applications, one to control the GPS, one or two to control the phone radio system and one to control the Bluetooth transceiver. Your television that you turned on to get the news contains processors to control the display, receiver and remote as well as one for the cable box. After getting dressed and getting into the car you encountered a couple more: one in your remote garage door opener and one in the alarm system of your house. Your car in which you drove into work contains a dozen or so processors for the engine electronic control system, GPS, radio system, electronic compass, etc.

Needless to say these tiny little black silicon brains have embedded themselves as an inseparable part of everyday life. Seemingly complicated technology within the tiny black square, when broken down into its individual subsystems, the tiny device becomes easily understood.

Course Content

This course is in the following PDF document:

Microcontrollers: An Introduction

Please click on the above underlined hypertext to view, download or print the document for your study. Because of the large file size, we recommend that you first save the file to your computer by right clicking the mouse and choosing "Save Target As ...", and then open the file in Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you still experience any difficulty in downloading or opening this file, you may need to close some applications or reboot your computer to free up some memory.

Course Summary

Microcontrollers are specialized microprocessors. Three of the most popular processor architectures include the Harvard architecture where data memory and program memory are accessed separately, the von Neumann architecture where data memory and program memory are accessed from the same bus, and the modified Harvard architecture which is a combination of the previously mentioned two. The central processing unit (composed of the arithmetic logic unit, registers and the control unit) functions as the brains or core of the processor. The central processing unit processes machine code stored in memory to control all of its functions. The machine code is compiled or assembled from the processor’s instruction set which defines all of the operations of the microcontroller. To complement their functionality, microcontrollers include a suite of peripherals such as input/output pins, timers, a real-time clock and communications controllers.


Once you finish studying the above course content, you need to take a quiz to obtain the PDH credits.

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.