8051 tutorial :: Types of memory

Types of Memory

The 8051 has three very general types of memory. To effectively program the 8051 it is necessary to have a basic understanding of these memory types.

The memory types are illustrated in the following graphic. They are: On-Chip Memory, External Code Memory, and External RAM.

On-Chip Memory Types of Memory

As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, the 8051 includes a certain amount of on-chip memory. On-chip memory is really one of two types: Internal RAM and Special Function Register (SFR) memory. The layout of the 8051's internal memory is presented in the following memory map:

Register Banks

The 8051 uses 8 "R" registers which are used in many of its instructions. These "R" registers are numbered from 0 through 7 (R0, R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, and R7). These registers are generally used to assist in manipulating values and moving data from one memory location to another. For example, to add the value of R4 to the Accumulator, we would execute the following instruction:

Code Memory

Code memory is the memory that holds the actual 8051 program that is to be run. This memory is limited to 64K and comes in many shapes and sizes: Code memory may be found on-chip, either burned into the microcontroller as ROM or EPROM. Code may also be stored completely off-chip in an external ROM or, more commonly, an external EPROM. Flash RAM is also another popular method of storing a program. Various combinations of these memory types may also be used--that is to say, it is possible to have 4K of code memory on-chip and 64k of code memory off-chip in an EPROM.

External RAM

As an obvious opposite of Internal RAM, the 8051 also supports what is called External RAM.

As the name suggests, External RAM is any random access memory which is found off-chip. Since the memory is off-chip it is not as flexible in terms of accessing, and is also slower. For example, to increment an Internal RAM location by 1 requires only 1 instruction and 1 instruction cycle. To increment a 1-byte value stored in External RAM requires 4 instructions and 7 instruction cycles. In this case, external memory is 7 times slower!


The 8051, being a communications-oriented microcontroller, gives the user the ability to access a number of bit variables. These variables may be either 1 or 0.

There are 128 bit variables available to the user, numberd 00h through 7Fh. The user may make use of these variables with commands such as SETB and CLR. For example, to set bit number 24 (hex) to 1 you would execute the instruction:

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