Integrated Circuits vs Microprocessor (Explained)

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Integrated Circuit, also referred to as IC, indicates a thin and flat chip made usually of silicon material.

This consists of at least two semiconductors that are interconnected such as the transistors.

A microprocessor is that computer hardware which consists of the whole CPU or Central Processing Unit on a single chip.

When people talk about embedded systems, they usually refer to Integrated Circuits and the microprocessors working in them.

However, most people do not know what these are exactly and how they differ.

In this article, you will come to know the differences between an Integrated Circuit and a microprocessor.

KEY TAKEAWAYS         

  • The term Integrated Circuit usually refers to a technology that has revolutionized the design of semiconductors.
  • The microprocessors are the specific hardware component of a computer that enhances the speed and performance of the system.
  • An Integrated Circuit actually has a lot of other components implanted such as the transistors, resistors, inductors and others.

Integrated Circuits vs Microprocessor

Differences Between Integrated Circuits and Microprocessor

1. Date of Creation

The patent of the Integrated Circuits was awarded to Robert Noyce on April 25, 1961, but Kilby’s application was also considered to be independently conceived and acknowledged.

On the other hand, the microprocessors were created by a team of silicon engineers and logic architects in January 1971 for Busicom, the Japanese calculator manufacturer.

The team consisted of Federico Faggin, Stanley Mazor, Marcian (Ted) Hoff, and Masatoshi Shima.

2. Meaning

An Integrated Circuit is actually a technology in the electronic world and refers to semiconductor design.

A microprocessor, on the other hand, refers to the computer hardware component that handles all the calculations and carries out the instructions as received.

3. Parts Contained

The Integrated Circuit is made up of many different components such as the transistors, resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes and more.

On the other hand, the microprocessor is that computer chip inserted into the system that comes with all parts of a Central Processing Unit such as the Control Unit or CU, the Arithmetic Logic Unit or ALU, and the register array.

They may also have buffers and many different interface circuits to link with the circuits outside it such as peripheral Integrated Circuits and memory apart from their own non-volatile storage such as ROM or Read Only Memory for the programs and Random Access Memory or RAM for data.

4. Categorization

The term Integrated Circuit refers to a broad category that includes microprocessors also, along with others.

On the other hand, microprocessors belong to the Integrated Circuit family.

This means that all microprocessors are ICs but the converse is not true.

5. Design Considerations

The Integrated Circuits are used for general purposes and therefore does not need to be extremely careful while selecting the specific parameters strictly while designing them.

However, it is essential to be knowledgeable about the capabilities of them before you start a project because there are so many different types of ICs available.

On the other hand, designing a microprocessor is not the same as designing a conventional Integrated Circuit.

There are a few specific considerations to take into account such as the single purpose for which it is built, which is to run software applications, as well as the operating voltages and clock frequencies.

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6. Suitability

Since the Integrated Circuits are not designed to use much power, they are best suited for smaller applications.

On the other hand, microprocessors are better suited for doing more demanding tasks that need huge amounts of computing power.

7. Operation

The Integrated Circuits cannot operate independently without using additional hardware devices.

This is because these circuits do not have program commands or other instructions stored inside them. These circuits typically communicate through special buses designed for it.

On the other hand, a microprocessor can run software programs, perform calculations and logic operations, and for all these it will not need to use any added hardware devices.

8. Main Benefits

The Integrated Circuits help in keeping the size of the devices smaller and lighter in weight.

Though the ICs can calculate, these are not quite efficient in handling complex calculations.

On the other hand, the microprocessors help in improving the performance of the system.

The microprocessors can handle more complex calculations than the Integrated Circuits.

9. Size Matters

The size of the Integrated Circuits is much smaller which allows them to be installed in smaller devices such as a digital thermometer.

On the other hand, the size of the microprocessors is relatively bigger and it is also quite bulkier making it a bit difficult to implant them in very small devices since these chips will require more space for it.

10. Functions

The set of electronic components in an Integrated Circuit perform particular tasks in the embedded system which include and are not limited to reading sensor data, controlling motors, filtering noise, amplifying signals, and lots of other important functions.

On the other hand, the microprocessors are the key processing units of a computer system that helps in reading and executing instructions that typically reside in the memory.

These can access data from the memory and external devices through the input/output ports.

11. Characteristics

There are different passive Integrated Circuits such as the typical logic gates and differential transceivers that are pretty strong in terms of speed and power supply.

On the other hand, microprocessors are not that robust and are also quite power hungry with needs often ranging between hundreds of Hertz or Gigahertz.

This may result in a host of issues in their prototype. These are also very sensitive to voltage and EMI or Electromagnetic Interface.

12. Reliability

The Integrated Circuits are more reliable in comparison to the microprocessors.

The design of the ICs allows tracing the component causing any issues within it easily and quickly making it easy to troubleshoot or repair.

On the other hand, the microprocessors are not as reliable as the Integrated Circuits because it is very hard to trace the source of an issue in case there is any.

13. The Cost Factor

The Integrated Circuits are quite cheap to manufacture as compared to the cost of making the microprocessors.

This is because the ICs are smaller in size, lighter, consume less energy and have a relatively simpler design.

On the other hand, the microprocessors are larger and bulkier which means that they need more material to manufacture.

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Also, the complex design pushes the manufacturing cost higher.

14. Usage Constraints

Since the Integrated Circuits consume less energy it can be used in devices and applications where energy consumption and space are important.

On the other hand, the larger size as well as the higher requirement of energy by the microprocessors does not allow using them in places where space and energy consumption is a concern.

Which is More Important  – Integrated Circuits or Microprocessor?

Now, this is a tough question to answer and there are some good reasons for that.

These chips serve the same purpose of improving the performance of the systems but both have a different way in accomplishing that particular feat.

Both the Integrated Circuits and microprocessors are very crucial for the modern electronic devices to perform but, if the differences between the two mentioned above has not made it clear to you, then these following facts will surely do.

Ideally, as it is said earlier, all microprocessors are Integrated Circuits but all Integrated Circuits are not microprocessors.

This is because the microprocessors belong to the Integrated circuit family.

This means that without the Integrated Circuits in place, there would not be any microprocessors in the first place.

So, that is one part of the importance between an Integrated Circuits and a microprocessor where the Integrated Circuits seems to be the winner.

However, that is not all and the debate or discussion does not end there.

Consider the design aspect of the two. Typically, depending on the design there can be thousands or millions of different components in one single Integrated Circuit.

This specific aspect has actually revolutionized the embedded system industry and the ways in which they work.

Ideally, the ICs with the transistors integrated into the chip has helped the electronics designers to create more advanced computing devices such as laptops, mobile phones, and tablets.

And, as said earlier, since the microprocessors belong to the family of Integrated Circuits, they also come with several components in one chip to perform the arithmetic and logic functions that make them a processor.

However, the microprocessors are designed to perform only one specific function – to execute the instructions received.

On the other hand, the Integrated Circuits are designed to perform several other functions besides processing.

Typically, within digital and analog Integrated Circuits, there can be thousands of applications, which is not possible with microprocessors in particular.

This is another winning aspect of the Integrated Circuits as compared with the microprocessors.

Now in order to establish the point ‘All microprocessors are always an Integrated Circuit but all Integrated Circuits are not microprocessors’ just take a look at the brief list of the standalone Integrated Circuits that are certainly not microprocessors:

  • Inverters and digital logic gates such as AND, NAND or NOT AND, NOR, XNOR or Exclusive NOR, OR, XOR or Exclusive OR, and NOT gates, multiplexers, buffers, counters, and more
  • Analog op-amps and other amplifiers, DACs or Digital to Analog Converters, ADCs or Analog to Digital Converters, and more
  • Voltage regulators and converters designed for switching and linear supplies
  • System memory such as flash, SRAM or Static Random Access Memory, DRAM or Dynamic Random Access Memory, and others and
  • Peripheral interfaces such as USB or Universal Serial Bus, UART or Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter, SPI or Serial Peripheral Interface, I2C or Inter-Integrated Controller, I2S or Integrated Inter-IC Sound Bus, and codecs.
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Then there is the whole bunch of mixed signal Integrated Circuits that comes with both analog and digital components.

The important point to note here is that, all of the above types of Integrated Circuits can be used in combination with a microprocessor, though some can also be used in those specific circuits that do not have a microprocessor such as voltage regulators, inverters, and amplifiers.

Therefore, if you put the Integrated Circuits and the microprocessors on the two sides of a balance, you know which side it will be inclined.

No prizes for guessing – the winner is the Integrated Circuits.

Typically, you will find Integrated Circuits being used to create displays, memories, displays, and other electronic systems such as cell phones and even cars and spacecraft.

However, in spite of the ubiquity of the Integrated Circuits, these do come with a few significant issues.

The small size in particular, which is also a major advantage, makes the ICs more susceptible to damages due to electrostatic discharge.

These are also quite sensitive to heat.

However, the microprocessors are not to be shunned completely.

These are also very useful types of Integrated Circuit that will enhance the speed and performance of a computer system by a significant margin.

Since these circuits also come with their own memory, there is no wait time for receiving the necessary instructions to perform any operation.

Most importantly, being smaller in size in comparison to a traditional processor used in the computers, these microprocessors can be used not only in desktop and laptop computers but also in other computing devices with a smaller form factor such as tablets, netbooks, smartphones and others.

Therefore, in the end it can be said that both microprocessors and Integrated Circuits are very important in this digital age but both perform their functions in a different way.

Still, both of them offer an easier way to read data from or write data to the memory of the systems.

Working in collusion, however will surely improve the level of performance since these chips will provide the embedded systems with more power for computing than they would have devoid of them.

These chips will also make the systems much faster.

Most importantly, with the continued improvement in information and in the embedded systems technologies, it is highly likely that soon you will see more and more devices equipped with both microprocessors and integrated circuits to offer a higher level of performance.

Conclusion

So, now you know from this article that both microprocessors and Integrated Circuits are an important part of the embedded systems but these are not the same.

Understanding the differences will now surely help you to know how these are incorporated and utilized in the electronic designs.