What is RISC-V?

A while back, the internet suddenly went agog with news of RISC-V. If you don’t know what that is, you’re in the right place. So let’s tackle this question, what is RISC-V?

RISC-V is a type of computer ISA or Instruction set architecture.

So RISC-V and ARM are both very similar in a lot of ways. This is because they utilize the same computing principle which is known as Reduced Set Instruction Computing or RISC.


RISC architecture is a type of computing principle that requires a task to be broken into very tiny parts before it can be done.

Imagine that you want to copy a sentence from a textbook to a notebook.

If you are a crammer, you can cram the entire sentence and put it down in the said notebook at once.

This is what is called CISC architecture as used on Intel/AMD CPUs

But if you choose to write down the sentence, one/two words at a time, you will complete the task. Maybe, not as quickly as someone who crammed the full sentence and penned it down, but you’ll complete the task anyway.

This is what is called RISC architecture.

RISC is the type of computing that is used by ARM to make the CPU designs that power our phones.


RISC-V also uses this same type of “breaking the task little by little” approach to computing. But unlike ARM’s ISA, RISC-V is free!

RISC has always been in existence since the 1980s but it was only ARM who were able to perfect it. So basically everyone else just bought from ARM instead of going through the stress of working on their own CPU ISA or design.

This was until 2010 when a research team at the University of California, Berkeley decided to research and work on a RISC-based computer architecture. They decided to name it RISC-V.

Since the University is government-funded and RISC V is open-sourced, the ISA is almost practically free.

There’s no need to buy any license of any sort as you’ll have to do with ARM or Intel. You can walk up to the university and print a schematic or simply download it online.

Very interesting right?

Support rolls in for RISC-V

And many companies have begun supporting and using RISC-V. The chief of these is Nvidia.

Other companies like Samsung and Seagate as well as Western Digital also use RISC-V architecture to make memory controllers for their SSDs.

Apple, Google, Facebook, Sony, etc. are also some very huge names that have thrown their weight behind the support of RISC-V architecture and its development.

The development of RISC-V has grown beyond the University of California, Berkeley.

Some of the leading researchers have founded a company called Si-Five. This company has hopes of competing with ARM someday and Qualcomm have seemed to back them.


So why are smartphones not using RISC-V right now? Well, for starters RISC-V-based CPUs are not as powerful or as developed as ARM’s CPUs.

The best RISC-V CPU is only as good as an ARM Cortex A75 CPU that you’ll find in SoCs like the Helio G70 or Unisoc T618. In the meantime, ARM’s best CPU, the Cortex X3 is far ahead of that.

There’s also the problem with software support from Android, Chrome, MacOS, iOS, Windows, etc. Currently, Linux is the only major OS that supports it.

Then there’s also going to be the issue of building apps that can run on the ISA.

So for now, RISC-V hasn’t matured yet, but it will, eventually. That’s RISC-V in a nutshell.

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