7. The RISCy Hipster

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The RISCy hipster

RISC (reduced instruction set computer) is a computer processor design that performs fewer instructions at higher speeds compared to CISC (complex instruction set computer). In the early days of computing, CISC allowed developers to rapidly create software with fewer instructions that would additionally consume less disk space. However, by the late 1980s, many argued that advances in software development tools and technology made these benefits irrelevant, and that RISC designs would be necessary to advance computer performance in the future.

While CISC Intel/AMD x86 processors have remained incredibly popular over the past four decades, RISC systems started appearing en mass during the 1990s. From 1994-2006, Apple computers used a RISC PowerPC processor. High-end UNIX workstation systems of the 1990s and 2000s also relied on RISC designs, including the Sun Microsystems SPARC, SGI MIPS, HP PA-RISC, DEC Alpha, and Acorn RISC Machine (ARM). ARM subsequently became the standard processor used in mobile smartphones, tablets, and Internet-connected devices, as well as in newer Apple Silicon-based Mac computers. In cloud server environments, powerful Ampere and Graviton ARM processors currently provide the best price/performance ratio.

RISC-V entered the scene in 2010 as a fully open source RISC design that was free of any licensing fees. Because of this, it has gained tremendous support from large organizations and hardware manufacturers in recent years, and will likely become as popular as ARM in the near future.

As prophesized by Angelina Jolie in the 1995 movie Hackers, RISC is the future. And since the 1990s, I’ve definitely been that hipster dude in the room that advocates the latest RISC technology. I used Sun Microsystems SPARC systems heavily for work during the 1990s, and had many SGI MIPS and DEC Alpha workstations over the years. I used both PowerPC-based Apple computers and UltraSPARC-based Sun Microsystems computers as my main workstations during the 2000s, and today use an Apple Silicon-based Mac Studio running Fedora Asahi Linux.

Because I entered tech when powerful RISC platforms running UNIX were the envy of everyone in the industry, I’ve always been drawn to powerful RISC platforms, and take keen interest in new ones such as RISC-V. Because it’s still in its infancy, RISC-V isn’t as powerful as other RISC platforms, but that’s changing very very quickly and I’m interested in watching it gather steam along the way.