Definition of: Embedded System

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  • Topic: Flash memory, Microprocessor, Microcontroller
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Definition of: embedded system 

Any electronic system that uses a computer chip, but that is not a general-purpose workstation, desktop or laptop computer. Such systems use microcontrollers (MCUs) or microprocessors (MPUs), or they may use custom-designed chips. Deployed by the billions each year in myriad applications, the embedded systems market uses the lion's share of all the electronic components in the world.

Embedded systems are employed in automobiles, planes, trains, space vehicles, machine tools, cameras, consumer electronics, office appliances, network appliances, video games, cellphones, PDAs, GPS navigation as well as robots and toys. Low-cost consumer products can use microcontroller chips that cost less than a dollar. See microprocessor and microcontroller.

All Kinds of Operating Systems
There are embedded versions of Linux, Windows and Mac, as well as other commercial and proprietary operating systems specialized for embedded systems. Embedded systems typically have limited storage, and an embedded OS is often designed to work in much less memory than desktop operating systems. They also typically work in real time. Small embedded systems may run an application that contains its own input/output routines and not require a separate operating system.

Programs Are in Firmware
In embedded systems, the software typically resides in firmware, such as a flash memory or read-only memory (ROM) chip, in contrast to a general-purpose computer that loads its programs into random access memory (RAM) each time.

Sometimes, single board and rack mounted general-purpose computers are called "embedded computers" if used to control a single printer, drill press or other such device. See embedded market, smart car, Windows CE, Windows XP Embedded, Embedded Linux and embedded language.

Embedded Systems

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Variety of embedded systems

PC Engines' ALIX.1C Mini-ITX embedded board with an x86 AMD Geode LX 800 together withCompact Flash, miniPCI and PCI slots, 44-pin IDEinterface, audio, USB and 256MB RAM

An embedded RouterBoard 112 withU.FL-RSMA pigtail and R52 miniPCI Wi-Fi card widely used by wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) in the Czech Republic. Embedded systems span all aspects of modern life and there are many examples of their use. Telecommunications systems employ numerous embedded systems from telephone switches for the network to mobile phones at the end-user. Computer networking uses dedicated routersand network bridges to route data. Consumer electronics include personal digital assistants (PDAs), mp3 players, mobile phones, videogame consoles, digital cameras, DVD players, GPS receivers, and printers. Many household appliances, such as microwave ovens, washing machines and dishwashers, are including embedded systems to provide flexibility, efficiency and features. Advanced HVAC systems use networked thermostats to more accurately and efficiently control temperature that can change by time of day and season. Home automation uses wired- and wireless-networking that can be used to control lights, climate, security, audio/visual, surveillance, etc., all of which use embedded devices for sensing and controlling. Transportation systems from flight to automobiles increasingly use embedded systems. New airplanes contain advanced avionics such as inertial guidance systems and GPS receivers that also have considerable safety requirements. Various electric motors — brushless DC motors, induction motors and DC motors — are using electric/electronic motor controllers. Automobiles, electric vehicles, and hybrid vehicles are...
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