Embedded system

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An embedded system is a computer system designed to perform one or a few dedicated functions[1][2] often with real-time computing constraints. It is embedded as part of a complete device often including hardware and mechanical parts. By contrast, a general-purpose computer, such as a personal computer (PC), is designed to be flexible and to meet a wide range of end-user needs. Embedded systems control many devices in common use today.[3]

Embedded systems are controlled by one or more main processing cores that are typically either microcontrollers or digital signal processors (DSP).[4] The key characteristic, however, is being dedicated to handle a particular task, which may require very powerful processors. For example, air traffic control systems may usefully be viewed as embedded, even though they involve mainframe computers and dedicated regional and national networks between airports and radar sites (each radar probably includes one or more embedded systems of its own).

Since the embedded system is dedicated to specific tasks, design engineers can optimize it to reduce the size and cost of the product and increase 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 a strictly definable term, as most systems have some element of extensibility or programmability. For example, handheld computers share some elements with embedded systems such as the operating systems and microprocessors which power them, but they allow different applications to be loaded and peripherals to be connected. Moreover, even systems which don't expose programmability as a primary feature generally need to support software updates. On a continuum from "general purpose" to "embedded", large application systems will have subcomponents at most points even if the system as a whole is "designed to perform one or a few dedicated functions", and is thus appropriate to call "embedded".

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