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DSP chips are designed for digital processing or motor feedback control applications. These applications often require high speed real time dot product operations and matrix manipulations. Since DSP chips are used mainly for embedded applications, they must be low cost.

Microcontrollers are designed for control applications. In many control applications, the computation speed is not the main concern. The ease of use and versatility of the processor are the main design criteria for microcontrollers. In computer control, interface to sensors and actuators involves many hardware circuits. To reduce the system integration cost of the hardware footprint, many I/O interface circuits and memory circuits are integrated with the CPU on one chip. Therefore, the address bus, data bus and control bus are built inside the microcontroller. Most pins of microcontrollers are used for I/O ports, analog to digital converters, and serial communications. Since microcontrollers are mainly used for embedded applications, they must be low cost.

General purpose processors are designed for PCs and workstations. They are not as price sensitive as DSPs and microcontrollers. Since the application of a PC or a workstation cannot be predicted, the speed for all kinds of computations should be fast.