Complex Instruction Set Computer

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Related to Complex Instruction Set Computer: reduced instruction set computer, RISC

complex instruction set computer

[¦käm‚pleks in′strək·shən ‚set kəm‚pyüd·ər]
(computer science)
A computer in which relatively high-level or complex hardware incorporating microcode is used to implement a relatively large number of instructions. Abbreviated CISC.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Complex Instruction Set Computer

(CISC) A processor where each instruction can perform several low-level operations such as memory access, arithmetic operations or address calculations. The term was coined in contrast to Reduced Instruction Set Computer.

Before the first RISC processors were designed, many computer architects were trying to bridge the "semantic gap" - to design instruction sets to support high-level languages by providing "high-level" instructions such as procedure call and return, loop instructions such as "decrement and branch if non-zero" and complex addressing modes to allow data structure and array accesses to be compiled into single instructions.

While these architectures achieved their aim of allowing high-level language constructs to be expressed in fewer instructions, it was observed that they did not always result in improved performance. For example, on one processor it was discovered that it was possible to improve the performance by NOT using the procedure call instruction but using a sequence of simpler instructions instead. Furthermore, the more complex the instruction set, the greater the overhead of decoding an instruction, both in execution time and silicon area. This is particularly true for processors which used microcode to decode the (macro) instruction. It is easier to debug a complex instruction set implemented in microcode than one whose decoding is "hard-wired" in silicon.

Examples of CISC processors are the Motorola 680x0 family and the Intel 80186 through Intel 486 and Pentium.
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(Complex Instruction Set Computer) Pronounced "sisk." The traditional architecture of a computer which uses microcode to execute very comprehensive instructions. Instructions may be variable in length and use several addressing modes, requiring complex circuitry to decode them. Contrast with RISC.
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