Isn't the Electronic Controller Unit (which are used in automotive applications) a Microcontroller it self?

What is the difference between them in architectural point of view?

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ What is the difference between a car and an engine? Isn't a car just an engine itself? \$\endgroup\$ – DKNguyen Jan 10 '20 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ go to google image search and search for pictures of "MCU" and "ECU". Spot the difference. \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Jan 10 '20 at 14:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, first item on "components of an ECU" on the wikipedia page lists "microcontroller". So, not really a great lot of research here! \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Jan 10 '20 at 14:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ An MCU will have a microcontroller inside it. I guess they could make one out of discrete logic but they definitely won't bother. \$\endgroup\$ – user253751 Jan 10 '20 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ MCU = Microcontroller Unit = Microcontroller. MCU is just used to differentiate between MCU and MPU (microprocessor unit) which usually doesnt have integrated memory / peripherals etc \$\endgroup\$ – LazyMoggy Jan 10 '20 at 15:09

A Microcontroller is an integrated circuit (IC) that is usually a system on chip (SOC) meaning its processor core, memory and IO are all inside one discrete package. Microcontrollers are generic so to use them for specific functions they require supporting hardware and software.

In comparison an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) is a general term that abstracts from the hardware beneath it.

A Microcontroller can be used to make an ECU by integrating it on a circuit board with appropriate physical connectors, custom software, power circuitry and mechanical packaging. However an ECU could instead use an FPGA, mini-PC or purely analogue hardware


A microcontroller is just a single chip. An ECU consists at least of:

  • a metal enclosure
  • printed circuit board
  • microcontroller(s) or microprocessor(s)
  • power supply
  • protection components

These are two different things. Just like CPU != laptop.

This is what an ECU looks like (and the biggest chip is likely the MCU or MPU):enter image description here



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