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RISC-V Instruction Set Manual, Volume I: RISC-V User-Level ISA , 20191214- December 2019

29 History and Acknowledgments

29.1 “Why Develop a new ISA?” Rationale from Berkeley Group

We developed RISC-V to support our own needs in research and education, where our group is particularly interested in actual hardware implementations of research ideas (we have completed eleven different silicon fabrications of RISC-V since the first edition of this specification), and in providing real implementations for students to explore in classes (RISC-V processor RTL designs have been used in multiple undergraduate and graduate classes at Berkeley). In our current research, we are especially interested in the move towards specialized and heterogeneous accelerators, driven by the power constraints imposed by the end of conventional transistor scaling. We wanted a highly flexible and extensible base ISA around which to build our research effort.

A question we have been repeatedly asked is “Why develop a new ISA?” The biggest obvious benefit of using an existing commercial ISA is the large and widely supported software ecosystem, both development tools and ported applications, which can be leveraged in research and teaching. Other benefits include the existence of large amounts of documentation and tutorial examples. However, our experience of using commercial instruction sets for research and teaching is that these benefits are smaller in practice, and do not outweigh the disadvantages:

  • Commercial ISAs are proprietary. Except for SPARC V8, which is an open IEEE standard [sparcieee1994]), most owners of commercial ISAs carefully guard their intellectual property and do not welcome freely available competitive implementations. This is much less of an issue for academic research and teaching using only software simulators, but has been a major concern for groups wishing to share actual RTL implementations. It is also a major concern for entities who do not want to trust the few sources of commercial ISA implementations, but who are prohibited from creating their own clean room implementations. We cannot guarantee that all RISC-V implementations will be free of third-party patent infringements, but we can guarantee we will not attempt to sue a RISC-V implementor.

  • Commercial ISAs are only popular in certain market domains. The most obvious examples at time of writing are that the ARM architecture is not well supported in the server space, and the Intel x86 architecture (or for that matter, almost every other architecture) is not well supported in the mobile space, though both Intel and ARM are attempting to enter each other’s market segments. Another example is ARC and Tensilica, which provide extensible cores but are focused on the embedded space. This market segmentation dilutes the benefit of supporting a particular commercial ISA as in practice the software ecosystem only exists for certain domains, and has to be built for others.

  • Commercial ISAs come and go. Previous research infrastructures have been built around commercial ISAs that are no longer popular (SPARC, MIPS) or even no longer in production (Alpha). These lose the benefit of an active software ecosystem, and the lingering intellectual property issues around the ISA and supporting tools interfere with the ability of interested third parties to continue supporting the ISA. An open ISA might also lose popularity, but any interested party can continue using and developing the ecosystem.

  • Popular commercial ISAs are complex. The dominant commercial ISAs (x86 and ARM) are both very complex to implement in hardware to the level of supporting common software stacks and operating systems. Worse, nearly all the complexity is due to bad, or at least outdated, ISA design decisions rather than features that truly improve efficiency.

  • Commercial ISAs alone are not enough to bring up applications. Even if we expend the effort to implement a commercial ISA, this is not enough to run existing applications for that ISA. Most applications need a complete ABI (application binary interface) to run, not just the user-level ISA. Most ABIs rely on libraries, which in turn rely on operating system support. To run an existing operating system requires implementing the supervisor-level ISA and device interfaces expected by the OS. These are usually much less well-specified and considerably more complex to implement than the user-level ISA.

  • Popular commercial ISAs were not designed for extensibility. The dominant commercial ISAs were not particularly designed for extensibility, and as a consequence have added considerable instruction encoding complexity as their instruction sets have grown. Companies such as Tensilica (acquired by Cadence) and ARC (acquired by Synopsys) have built ISAs and toolchains around extensibility, but have focused on embedded applications rather than general-purpose computing systems.

  • A modified commercial ISA is a new ISA. One of our main goals is to support architecture research, including major ISA extensions. Even small extensions diminish the benefit of using a standard ISA, as compilers have to be modified and applications rebuilt from source code to use the extension. Larger extensions that introduce new architectural state also require modifications to the operating system. Ultimately, the modified commercial ISA becomes a new ISA, but carries along all the legacy baggage of the base ISA.

Our position is that the ISA is perhaps the most important interface in a computing system, and there is no reason that such an important interface should be proprietary. The dominant commercial ISAs are based on instruction-set concepts that were already well known over 30 years ago. Software developers should be able to target an open standard hardware target, and commercial processor designers should compete on implementation quality.

We are far from the first to contemplate an open ISA design suitable for hardware implementation. We also considered other existing open ISA designs, of which the closest to our goals was the OpenRISC architecture [openriscarch]). We decided against adopting the OpenRISC ISA for several technical reasons:

  • OpenRISC has condition codes and branch delay slots, which complicate higher performance implementations.

  • OpenRISC uses a fixed 32-bit encoding and 16-bit immediates, which precludes a denser instruction encoding and limits space for later expansion of the ISA.

  • OpenRISC does not support the 2008 revision to the IEEE 754 floating-point standard.

  • The OpenRISC 64-bit design had not been completed when we began.

By starting from a clean slate, we could design an ISA that met all of our goals, though of course, this took far more effort than we had planned at the outset. We have now invested considerable effort in building up the RISC-V ISA infrastructure, including documentation, compiler tool chains, operating system ports, reference ISA simulators, FPGA implementations, efficient ASIC implementations, architecture test suites, and teaching materials. Since the last edition of this manual, there has been considerable uptake of the RISC-V ISA in both academia and industry, and we have created the non-profit RISC-V Foundation to protect and promote the standard. The RISC-V Foundation website at contains the latest information on the Foundation membership and various open-source projects using RISC-V.

29.2 History from Revision 1.0 of ISA manual

The RISC-V ISA and instruction-set manual builds upon several earlier projects. Several aspects of the supervisor-level machine and the overall format of the manual date back to the T0 (Torrent-0) vector microprocessor project at UC Berkeley and ICSI, begun in 1992. T0 was a vector processor based on the MIPS-II ISA, with Krste Asanović as main architect and RTL designer, and Brian Kingsbury and Bertrand Irrisou as principal VLSI implementors. David Johnson at ICSI was a major contributor to the T0 ISA design, particularly supervisor mode, and to the manual text. John Hauser also provided considerable feedback on the T0 ISA design.

The Scale (Software-Controlled Architecture for Low Energy) project at MIT, begun in 2000, built upon the T0 project infrastructure, refined the supervisor-level interface, and moved away from the MIPS scalar ISA by dropping the branch delay slot. Ronny Krashinsky and Christopher Batten were the principal architects of the Scale Vector-Thread processor at MIT, while Mark Hampton ported the GCC-based compiler infrastructure and tools for Scale.

A lightly edited version of the T0 MIPS scalar processor specification (MIPS-6371) was used in teaching a new version of the MIT 6.371 Introduction to VLSI Systems class in the Fall 2002 semester, with Chris Terman and Krste Asanović as lecturers. Chris Terman contributed most of the lab material for the class (there was no TA!). The 6.371 class evolved into the trial 6.884 Complex Digital Design class at MIT, taught by Arvind and Krste Asanović in Spring 2005, which became a regular Spring class 6.375. A reduced version of the Scale MIPS-based scalar ISA, named SMIPS, was used in 6.884/6.375. Christopher Batten was the TA for the early offerings of these classes and developed a considerable amount of documentation and lab material based around the SMIPS ISA. This same SMIPS lab material was adapted and enhanced by TA Yunsup Lee for the UC Berkeley Fall 2009 CS250 VLSI Systems Design class taught by John Wawrzynek, Krste Asanović, and John Lazzaro.

The Maven (Malleable Array of Vector-thread ENgines) project was a second-generation vector-thread architecture. Its design was led by Christopher Batten when he was an Exchange Scholar at UC Berkeley starting in summer 2007. Hidetaka Aoki, a visiting industrial fellow from Hitachi, gave considerable feedback on the early Maven ISA and microarchitecture design. The Maven infrastructure was based on the Scale infrastructure but the Maven ISA moved further away from the MIPS ISA variant defined in Scale, with a unified floating-point and integer register file. Maven was designed to support experimentation with alternative data-parallel accelerators. Yunsup Lee was the main implementor of the various Maven vector units, while Rimas Avižienis was the main implementor of the various Maven scalar units. Yunsup Lee and Christopher Batten ported GCC to work with the new Maven ISA. Christopher Celio provided the initial definition of a traditional vector instruction set (“Flood”) variant of Maven.

Based on experience with all these previous projects, the RISC-V ISA definition was begun in Summer 2010, with Andrew Waterman, Yunsup Lee, Krste Asanović, and David Patterson as principal designers. An initial version of the RISC-V 32-bit instruction subset was used in the UC Berkeley Fall 2010 CS250 VLSI Systems Design class, with Yunsup Lee as TA. RISC-V is a clean break from the earlier MIPS-inspired designs. John Hauser contributed to the floating-point ISA definition, including the sign-injection instructions and a register encoding scheme that permits internal recoding of floating-point values.

29.3 History from Revision 2.0 of ISA manual

Multiple implementations of RISC-V processors have been completed, including several silicon fabrications, as shown in Figure 1.1.

Fabricated RISC-V testchips.

The first RISC-V processors to be fabricated were written in Verilog and manufactured in a pre-production 28 nm FDSOI technology from ST as the Raven-1 testchip in 2011. Two cores were developed by Yunsup Lee and Andrew Waterman, advised by Krste Asanović, and fabricated together: 1) an RV64 scalar core with error-detecting flip-flops, and 2) an RV64 core with an attached 64-bit floating-point vector unit. The first microarchitecture was informally known as “TrainWreck”, due to the short time available to complete the design with immature design libraries.

Subsequently, a clean microarchitecture for an in-order decoupled RV64 core was developed by Andrew Waterman, Rimas Avižienis, and Yunsup Lee, advised by Krste Asanović, and, continuing the railway theme, was codenamed “Rocket” after George Stephenson’s successful steam locomotive design. Rocket was written in Chisel, a new hardware design language developed at UC Berkeley. The IEEE floating-point units used in Rocket were developed by John Hauser, Andrew Waterman, and Brian Richards. Rocket has since been refined and developed further, and has been fabricated two more times in 28 nm FDSOI (Raven-2, Raven-3), and five times in IBM 45 nm SOI technology (EOS14, EOS16, EOS18, EOS20, EOS22) for a photonics project. Work is ongoing to make the Rocket design available as a parameterized RISC-V processor generator.

EOS14–EOS22 chips include early versions of Hwacha, a 64-bit IEEE floating-point vector unit, developed by Yunsup Lee, Andrew Waterman, Huy Vo, Albert Ou, Quan Nguyen, and Stephen Twigg, advised by Krste Asanović. EOS16–EOS22 chips include dual cores with a cache-coherence protocol developed by Henry Cook and Andrew Waterman, advised by Krste Asanović. EOS14 silicon has successfully run at 1.25 GHz. EOS16 silicon suffered from a bug in the IBM pad libraries. EOS18 and EOS20 have successfully run at 1.35 GHz.

Contributors to the Raven testchips include Yunsup Lee, Andrew Waterman, Rimas Avižienis, Brian Zimmer, Jaehwa Kwak, Ruzica Jevtić, Milovan Blagojević, Alberto Puggelli, Steven Bailey, Ben Keller, Pi-Feng Chiu, Brian Richards, Borivoje Nikolić, and Krste Asanović.

Contributors to the EOS testchips include Yunsup Lee, Rimas Avižienis, Andrew Waterman, Henry Cook, Huy Vo, Daiwei Li, Chen Sun, Albert Ou, Quan Nguyen, Stephen Twigg, Vladimir Stojanović, and Krste Asanović.

Andrew Waterman and Yunsup Lee developed the C++ ISA simulator “Spike”, used as a golden model in development and named after the golden spike used to celebrate completion of the US transcontinental railway. Spike has been made available as a BSD open-source project.

Andrew Waterman completed a Master’s thesis with a preliminary design of the RISC-V compressed instruction set [waterman-ms]).

Various FPGA implementations of the RISC-V have been completed, primarily as part of integrated demos for the Par Lab project research retreats. The largest FPGA design has 3 cache-coherent RV64IMA processors running a research operating system. Contributors to the FPGA implementations include Andrew Waterman, Yunsup Lee, Rimas Avižienis, and Krste Asanović.

RISC-V processors have been used in several classes at UC Berkeley. Rocket was used in the Fall 2011 offering of CS250 as a basis for class projects, with Brian Zimmer as TA. For the undergraduate CS152 class in Spring 2012, Christopher Celio used Chisel to write a suite of educational RV32 processors, named “Sodor” after the island on which “Thomas the Tank Engine” and friends live. The suite includes a microcoded core, an unpipelined core, and 2, 3, and 5-stage pipelined cores, and is publicly available under a BSD license. The suite was subsequently updated and used again in CS152 in Spring 2013, with Yunsup Lee as TA, and in Spring 2014, with Eric Love as TA. Christopher Celio also developed an out-of-order RV64 design known as BOOM (Berkeley Out-of-Order Machine), with accompanying pipeline visualizations, that was used in the CS152 classes. The CS152 classes also used cache-coherent versions of the Rocket core developed by Andrew Waterman and Henry Cook.

Over the summer of 2013, the RoCC (Rocket Custom Coprocessor) interface was defined to simplify adding custom accelerators to the Rocket core. Rocket and the RoCC interface were used extensively in the Fall 2013 CS250 VLSI class taught by Jonathan Bachrach, with several student accelerator projects built to the RoCC interface. The Hwacha vector unit has been rewritten as a RoCC coprocessor.

Two Berkeley undergraduates, Quan Nguyen and Albert Ou, have successfully ported Linux to run on RISC-V in Spring 2013.

Colin Schmidt successfully completed an LLVM backend for RISC-V 2.0 in January 2014.

Darius Rad at Bluespec contributed soft-float ABI support to the GCC port in March 2014.

John Hauser contributed the definition of the floating-point classification instructions.

We are aware of several other RISC-V core implementations, including one in Verilog by Tommy Thorn, and one in Bluespec by Rishiyur Nikhil.


Thanks to Christopher F. Batten, Preston Briggs, Christopher Celio, David Chisnall, Stefan Freudenberger, John Hauser, Ben Keller, Rishiyur Nikhil, Michael Taylor, Tommy Thorn, and Robert Watson for comments on the draft ISA version 2.0 specification.

29.4 History from Revision 2.1

Uptake of the RISC-V ISA has been very rapid since the introduction of the frozen version 2.0 in May 2014, with too much activity to record in a short history section such as this. Perhaps the most important single event was the formation of the non-profit RISC-V Foundation in August 2015. The Foundation will now take over stewardship of the official RISC-V ISA standard, and the official website is the best place to obtain news and updates on the RISC-V standard.


Thanks to Scott Beamer, Allen J. Baum, Christopher Celio, David Chisnall, Paul Clayton, Palmer Dabbelt, Jan Gray, Michael Hamburg, and John Hauser for comments on the version 2.0 specification.

29.5 History from Revision 2.2


Thanks to Jacob Bachmeyer, Alex Bradbury, David Horner, Stefan O’Rear, and Joseph Myers for comments on the version 2.1 specification.

29.6 History for Revision 2.3

Uptake of RISC-V continues at breakneck pace.

John Hauser and Andrew Waterman contributed a hypervisor ISA extension based upon a proposal from Paolo Bonzini.

Daniel Lustig, Arvind, Krste Asanović, Shaked Flur, Paul Loewenstein, Yatin Manerkar, Luc Maranget, Margaret Martonosi, Vijayanand Nagarajan, Rishiyur Nikhil, Jonas Oberhauser, Christopher Pulte, Jose Renau, Peter Sewell, Susmit Sarkar, Caroline Trippel, Muralidaran Vijayaraghavan, Andrew Waterman, Derek Williams, Andrew Wright, and Sizhuo Zhang contributed the memory consistency model.

29.7 Funding

Development of the RISC-V architecture and implementations has been partially funded by the following sponsors.

  • Par Lab: Research supported by Microsoft (Award #024263) and Intel (Award #024894) funding and by matching funding by U.C. Discovery (Award #DIG07-10227). Additional support came from Par Lab affiliates Nokia, NVIDIA, Oracle, and Samsung.

  • Project Isis: DoE Award DE-SC0003624.

  • ASPIRE Lab: DARPA PERFECT program, Award HR0011-12-2-0016. DARPA POEM program Award HR0011-11-C-0100. The Center for Future Architectures Research (C-FAR), a STARnet center funded by the Semiconductor Research Corporation. Additional support from ASPIRE industrial sponsor, Intel, and ASPIRE affiliates, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Huawei, Nokia, NVIDIA, Oracle, and Samsung.

The content of this paper does not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the US government and no official endorsement should be inferred.