What Is Risc And Cisc In Computer Architecture

Computer architecture is composed of two main paradigms that together make up the majority of modern computer systems. These are the Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) and Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC). Such terms are commonly called “instruction sets” and are integral to understanding how computer hardware is designed and what is needed to instruct it.

What Is RISC?

RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computer. RISC systems are designed to have a small set of instructions that are performed frequently, as well as a variety of instructions that occur less often. This design keeps the instruction set small and helps the processor to be more efficient when executing instructions. RISC-based systems are usually more scalable than CISC systems since they are designed to be more easily adapted to changing needs.

RISC systems employ concepts such as load/stores, pipelining, and register windows. This focus on a small number of instructions eliminates redundancies and helps to minimize latency. As a result, RISC systems are generally faster and simpler than equivalent CISC systems.

The use of a smaller instruction set also helps to reduce the amount of circuitry. This in turn helps to reduce cost and increases the system’s performance. RISC systems are widely used in desktop PC’s, embedded systems, and more recently, cable modems and network devices.

What Is CISC?

CISC stands for Complex Instruction Set Computer. CISC systems have more frequently occurring types of instructions, each of which do more work. The idea is to reduce the total number of instructions that need to be executed. These types of systems require more circuitry and therefore cost more than a system based on the RISC approach.

CISC systems employ concepts such as memory addressing modes, variegated instruction lengths, and complex addressing modes. By allowing the processor to be instructed in multiple ways, CISC systems can be used for more complicated tasks, supporting larger and more powerful applications. CISC systems are used for desktop, server and high-end networking and storage applications.

However, the use of complex instructions can lead to inefficiencies, resulting in poorer performance than a RISC system of equivalent power. The more complex instruction set also makes CISC systems more difficult to design, resulting in more expensive and slower developments cycles.

Advantages of RISC

The advantages of RISC over CISC are numerous. One of the primary benefits is the ability to have more instructions that perform more work. This helps reduce the total number of instructions that need to be executed. Furthermore, they can be expanded by running multiple instructions simultaneously in a tighter loop. This helps improve overall performance.

RISC systems are also said to be easier to implement and maintain. This is because the basics of the system are kept simple and consistent. Many of the new technologies that have enabled powerful computing capabilities have been developed mainly for RISC systems, and are more easily adapted to them.

The cost of a RISC system is also typically lower than that of a CISC system. This is partly due to fewer components needed for RISC machines and partly because of the simpler design and creation. This makes RISC systems attractive for low-end mobile applications, where power and cost must be balanced.

Advantages of CISC

CISC systems are usually more powerful and include a variety of features that are not present in RISC systems. One of these features is memory segmentation, which allows an application to access different parts of memory in a more efficient manner. The use of more instructions and longer instructions also enables more complicated and faster operations.

CISC systems also tend to be easier to develop. This is because the instructions they use are simpler and more specialized. Because the instructions are more complex, development and maintenance costs are usually higher than for RISC systems.

Overall, both RISC and CISC architectures have their own advantages and drawbacks, and both have been used to great success. Choosing the right architecture for a particular application requires a detailed analysis of the application and its goals.

RISC vs. CISC Performance

Measuring the relative performance of RISC and CISC systems is complex and depends on many factors. It is generally accepted that, for the same technology, the performance of a RISC system will be better than that of an equivalent CISC system. This is mainly due to the reduced instruction set and simpler design of RISC systems.

That said, CISC systems often outperform RISC systems at complex operations and tasks. This is due to their broader instruction set and the ability of the processor to execute longer instructions. However, this comes at a cost in terms of power consumption and complexity.

RISC Applications

The most common use for RISC systems is in embedded applications. This is due to the optimized performance and scalability that the architecture provides. The ability of modern RISC machines to run multiple instructions simultaneously also makes them well suited for use in mobile and laptop applications. Furthermore, RISC-based systems are often used in scientific computing applications and telecommunications.

RISC systems are also becoming increasingly popular in networking applications. This is mainly due to the low cost, robustness, and high performance they provide. In addition, RISC systems are also used in embedded systems such as printers, digital cameras, and other consumer electronics.

CISC Applications

CISC systems have traditionally been used in workstations, servers, and large-scale systems. This is due to their ability to handle large amounts of data and their faster execution times. They are also well suited for application specific systems such as scientific and industrial computing.

CISC systems are also heavily utilized in storage applications and are capable of higher performance in medium- to large-scale applications. They also tend to cost more than RISC systems, but provide better performance for certain applications.


Both Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) and Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC) are important paradigms in computer architecture. RISC systems are designed to have a smaller set of instructions and focus on a few instructions that can be performed very quickly. CISC systems employ complex instructions that enable longer and more complicated operations, though at the cost of performance.

The right architecture for a particular application depends heavily on the goals of the application. RISC systems are typically used in embedded systems and mobile applications due to their scalability and low cost while CISC systems are used in larger, more complex applications such as servers and storage. As technology continues to advance, both architectures will evolve and expand their reach into new applications.

Anita Johnson is an award-winning author and editor with over 15 years of experience in the fields of architecture, design, and urbanism. She has contributed articles and reviews to a variety of print and online publications on topics related to culture, art, architecture, and design from the late 19th century to the present day. Johnson's deep interest in these topics has informed both her writing and curatorial practice as she seeks to connect readers to the built environment around them.

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