About 55% of all CPUs sold in the world are 8-bit microcontrollers and microprocessors. According to Semico, Over 4 billion 8-bit microcontrollers were sold in 2006
A typical home in a developed country is likely to have only four general-purpose microprocessors but around three dozen microcontrollers. A typical mid range automobile has as many as 30 or more microcontrollers. They can also be found in any electrical device: washing machines, microwave ovens, telephones etc.
A PIC 18F8720 microcontroller in an 80-pin TQFP package.
Manufacturers have often produced special versions of their microcontrollers in order to help the hardware and software development of the target system. Originally these included EPROM versions that have a "window" on the top of the device through which program memory can be erased by ultra violet light, ready for reprogramming after a programming ("burn") and test cycle. Since 1998, EPROM versions are rare and have been replaced by EEPROM and flash, which are easier to use (can be erased electronically) and cheaper to manufacture.
Other versions may be available where the ROM is accessed as an external device rather than as internal memory, however these are becoming increasingly rare due to the widespread availability of cheap microcontroller programmers.
The use of field-programmable devices on a microcontroller may allow field update of the firmware or permit late factory revisions to products that have been assembled but not yet shipped. Programmable memory also reduces the lead time required for deployment of a new product.
Where hundreds of thousands of identical devices are required, using parts programmed at the time of manufacture can be an economical option. These 'Mask Programmed' parts have the program laid down in the same way as the logic of the chip, at the same time.