Embedded Systems/8051 Microcontroller

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The Intel 8051 microcontroller is one of the most popular general purpose microcontrollers in use today. The success of the Intel 8051 spawned a number of clones which are collectively referred to as the MCS-51 family of microcontrollers, which includes chips from vendors such as Atmel, Philips, Infineon, and Texas Instruments.

About the 8051[edit]

The Intel 8051 is an 8-bit microcontroller which means that most available operations are limited to 8 bits. There are 3 basic "sizes" of the 8051: Short, Standard, and Extended. The Short and Standard chips are often available in DIP (dual in-line package) form, but the Extended 8051 models often have a different form factor, and are not "drop-in compatible". All these things are called 8051 because they can all be programmed using 8051 assembly language, and they all share certain features (although the different models all have their own special features).

Some of the features that have made the 8051 popular are:

  • 4 KB on chip program memory.
  • 128 bytes on chip data memory(RAM)
    • 32 bytes devoted to register banks
    • 16 bytes of bit-addressable memory
    • 80 bytes of general-purpose memory
  • 4 reg banks.
  • 128 user defined software flags.
  • 8-bit data bus
  • 16-bit address bus
  • 16 bit timers (usually 2, but may have more, or less).
  • 3 internal and 2 external interrupts.
  • Bit as well as byte addressable RAM area of 16 bytes.
  • Four 8-bit ports, (short models have two 8-bit ports).
  • 16-bit program counter and data pointer.
  • 1 Microsecond instruction cycle with 12 MHz Crystal.

Variants of the 8051 may also have a number of special, model-specific features, such as UART, ADC, Op_Amps, etc., making it an even more powerful microcontroller.

Typical applications[edit]

8051 chips are used in a wide variety of control systems, telecom applications, robotics as well as in the automotive industry. By some estimations, 8051 family chips make up over 50% of the embedded chip market.

Pin diagram of the 8051 DIP

Basic Pins[edit]

PIN 9: PIN 9 is the reset pin which is used to reset the microcontroller’s internal registers and ports upon starting up. (Pin should be held high for 2 machine cycles.)

PINS 18 & 19: The 8051 has a built-in oscillator amplifier hence we need to only connect a crystal at these pins to provide clock pulses to the circuit.

PIN 40 and 20: Pins 40 and 20 are VCC and ground respectively. The 8051 chip needs +5V 500mA to function properly, although there are lower powered versions like the Atmel 2051 which is a scaled down version of the 8051 which runs on +3V.

PINS 29, 30 & 31: As described in the features of the 8051, this chip contains a built-in flash memory. In order to program this we need to supply a voltage of +12V at pin 31. If external memory is connected then PIN 31, also called EA/VPP, should be connected to ground to indicate the presence of external memory. PIN 30 is called ALE (address latch enable), which is used when multiple memory chips are connected to the controller and only one of them needs to be selected.We will deal with this in depth in the later chapters. PIN 29 is called PSEN. This is "program store enable". In order to use the external memory it is required to provide the low voltage (0) on both PSEN and EA pins.

Pin 29: If we uses an external ROM then it should has a logic 0 which indicates Micro controller to read data from memory.

Pin 30: This Pin is used for ALE that is Address Latch Enable. If we uses multiple memory chips then this pin is used to distinguish between them.It is activated periodically with a constant rate of 1/6th of oscillator frequency. This Pin also gives program pulse input during programming of EPROM.

Pin 31: If we have to use multiple memories then by applying logic 1 to this pin instructs Micro controller to read data from both memories first internal and afterwards external.


There are 4 8-bit ports: P0, P1, P2 and P3.

PORT P1 (Pins 1 to 8): The port P1 is a general purpose input/output port which can be used for a variety of interfacing tasks. The other ports P0, P2 and P3 have dual roles or additional functions associated with them based upon the context of their usage.The port 1 output buffers can sink/source four TTL inputs. When 1s are written to portn1 pins are pulled high by the internal pull-ups and can be used as inputs.

PORT P3 (Pins 10 to 17): PORT P3 acts as a normal IO port, but Port P3 has additional functions such as, serial transmit and receive pins, 2 external interrupt pins, 2 external counter inputs, read and write pins for memory access.

PORT P2 (pins 21 to 28): PORT P2 can also be used as a general purpose 8 bit port when no external memory is present, but if external memory access is required then PORT P2 will act as an address bus in conjunction with PORT P0 to access external memory. PORT P2 acts as A8-A15, as can be seen from fig 1.1

PORT P0 (pins 32 to 39) PORT P0 can be used as a general purpose 8 bit port when no external memory is present, but if external memory access is required then PORT P0 acts as a multiplexed address and data bus that can be used to access external memory in conjunction with PORT P2. P0 acts as AD0-AD7, as can be seen from fig 1.1

PORT P10: asynchronous communication input or Serial synchronous communication output.

PIN 11: Serial Asynchronous Communication Output or Serial Synchronous Communication clock Output.

Oscillator Circuits[edit]

The 8051 requires an external oscillator circuit. The oscillator circuit usually runs around 12MHz, although the 8051 (depending on which specific model) is capable of running at a maximum of 40MHz. Each machine cycle in the 8051 is 12 clock cycles, giving an effective cycle rate at 1MHz (for a 12MHz clock) to 3.33MHz (for the maximum 40MHz clock). The oscillator circuit generates the clock pulses so that all internal operations are synchronized.

One machine cycle has 6 states. One state is 2 T-states. Therefore one machine cycle is 12 T-states. Time to execute an instruction is found by multiplying C by 12 and dividing product by Crystal frequency.

T=(C*12d)/crystal frequency

8051 Internal Architecture[edit]

Internal schematics of the 8051.

Data and Program Memory[edit]

The 8051 Microcontroller can be programmed in PL/M, 8051 Assembly, C and a number of other high-level languages. Some compilers even have support for compiling C++ for an 8051.

Program memory in the 8051 is read-only, while the data memory is considered to be read/write accessible. When stored on EEPROM or Flash, the program memory can be rewritten when the microcontroller is in the special programmer circuit or, if not using a 8031, through a preinstalled bootloader.

Program Start Address[edit]

The 8051 starts executing program instructions from address 0000 in the program memory. The A register is located in the SFR memory location 0xE0. The A register works in a similar fashion to the AX register of x86 processors. The A register is called the accumulator, and by default it receives the result of all arithmetic operations.

Special Function Register[edit]

The Special Function Register (SFR) is the upper area of addressable memory, from address 0x80 to 0xFF. A, B, PSW, DPTR are called SFR.This area of memory cannot be used for data or program storage, but is instead a series of memory-mapped ports and registers. All port input and output can therefore be performed by memory mov operations on specified addresses in the SFR. Also, different status registers are mapped into the SFR, for use in checking the status of the 8051, and changing some operational parameters of the 8051.

General Purpose Registers[edit]

The 8051 has 4 selectable banks of 8 addressable 8-bit registers, R0 to R7. This means that there are essentially 32 available general purpose registers, although only 8 (one bank) can be directly accessed at a time. To access the other banks, we need to change the current bank number in the flag register.

A and B Registers[edit]

The A register is located in the SFR memory location 0xE0. The A register works in a similar fashion to the AX register of x86 processors. The A register is called the accumulator, and by default it receives the result of all arithmetic operations. The B register is used in a similar manner, except that it can receive the extended answers from the multiply and divide operations. When not being used for multiplication and Division, the B register is available as an extra general-purpose register. The A and B registers can store up to 8-bits of data each.