Embedded system

Embedded system

Picture of the internals of a Netgear ADSL modem/router. A modern example of an embedded system. Labelled parts include a microprocessor (4), RAM (6), and flash memory (7).

An embedded system is a computer system designed to perform one or a few dedicated functions, often with real-time computing constraints. It is usually embedded as part of a complete device including hardware and mechanical parts. In contrast, a general-purpose computer, such as a personal computer, can do many different tasks depending on programming. Embedded systems control many of the common devices in use today.

Since the embedded system is dedicated to specific tasks, design engineers can optimize it, reducing the size and cost of the product, or increasing the reliability and performance. Some embedded systems are mass-produced, benefiting from economies of scale.

Physically, embedded systems range from portable devices such as digital watches and MP3 players, to large stationary installations like traffic lights, factory controllers, or the systems controlling nuclear power plants. Complexity varies from low, with a single microcontroller chip, to very high with multiple units, peripherals and networks mounted inside a large chassis or enclosure.

In general, "embedded system" is not an exactly defined term, as many systems have some element of programmability. For example, Handheld computers share some elements with embedded systems — such as the operating systems and microprocessors which power them — but are not truly embedded systems, because they allow different applications to be loaded and peripherals to be connected.

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