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Power Struggles: Revisiting the RISC vs. CISC Debate on Contemporary ARM and X86 Architectures

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Executive Summary

RISC vs. CISC wars raged in the 1980s when chip area and processor design complexity were the primary constraints and desktops and servers exclusively dominated the computing landscape. Today, energy and power are the primary design constraints and the computing landscape is significantly different: growth in tablets and Smartphones running ARM (a RISC ISA) is surpassing that of desktops and laptops running x86 (a CISC ISA). Further, the traditionally low-power ARM ISA is entering the high-performance server market, while the traditionally high-performance x86 ISA is entering the mobile low-power device market.

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