Evolution of the Microcontrollers
The first microprocessor, named the 4004, was introduced by the Intel Corporation in 1971. This was a simple 4-bit device, supported by three other chips to make a computer; the 4001 and 4002 memory chips, and the 4003 shift register. 4004 was initially used in calculators and in simple control applications.
Shortly after the 4004 appeared in the commercial marketplace, many electronic companies realised the power and future prospects of microprocessors and so have heavily invested in this field. Three other general-purpose microprocessors were soon introduced: Rockwell International 4-bit PPS-4, Intel 8-bit 8008 and the National Semiconductor 16-bit IMP-16. These microprocessors were based on PMOS technology and can be classified as the firstgeneration devices.
In the early 1970s, we see the second-generation microprocessors in the marketplace, designed using the NMOS technology. The shift to NMOS technology resulted in higher execution speeds, as well as higher chip densities. During this time, we see 8-bit microprocessors such as the Motorola 6800, Intel 8080 and 8085, the highly popular Zilog Z80, and Motorola 6800 and 6809.
The third generation of microprocessors were based on HMOS technology, which resulted in higher speeds and, more importantly, higher chip densities. During 1978, we see the 16-bit microprocessors such as the Intel 8086, Motorola 68 000 and Zilog Z8000. The 8086 microprocessor was so successful that it was used in early PC designs (called PC XT).
The fourth generation of microprocessors appeared around the 1980s and the technology was based on HCMOS. During this generation we see the introduction of 32-bit devices into the marketplace. Intel introduced the highly popular 32-bit microprocessors 80 386, 80 486, and the Pentium family; and Motorola introduced the 68 020 family. The Intel processors have been used heavily in early PC designs. In parallel to the development of 32-bit microprocessors, we see the introduction of early single chip computers (later named microcontrollers) into the marketplace.
The Intel 8048 was the first microcontroller, followed by the highly popular 8051 series. The 8051 device has been so popular that it is still in use today. This device was a true single chip computer, containing a CPU, data memory and erasable program memories, I/O module, timer/counter, interrupt logic, clock logic, and serial communications module, such as the Universal Synchronous Asynchronous Receiver Transmitter (USART). After the success of the 8051, we see many other companies offering microcontrollers. Today, some of the most popular general-purpose low-cost 8-bit microcontrollers are Microchip PIC series, Atmel AVR series, Motorola HC11 series, and 8051 and its derivatives.
The fifth and the current generation of microcontrollers are now based on 16-bit and 32-bit architectures (e.g. PIC32 series). It is interesting to note that currently the 8-bit microcontrollers are still popular and much more in demand. This is because of their simple architectures, low cost, low power requirements, and the availability of the vast number of hardware and software development tools. The power offered by the high-end 8-bit microcontrollers (e.g. the PIC18F series) are enough for most medium to high-speed applications, except perhaps in special cases of digital signal processing where much higher throughput is generally required.