An embedded system is housed on a single microprocessor board with the programs stored in ROM. Virtually all appliances that have a digital interface -- watches, microwaves, VCRs, cars -- utilize embedded systems. Some embedded systems include an operating system, but many are so specialized that the entire logic can be implemented as a single program.
Embedded systems are controlled by one or more main processing cores that are typically either microcontrollers or digital signal processors (DSP).The key characteristic, however, is being dedicated to handle a particular task, which may require very powerful processors. For example, air traffic control systems may usefully be viewed as embedded, even though they involve mainframe computers and dedicated regional and national networks between airports and radar sites. (Each radar probably includes one or more embedded systems of its own.)