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RISC-V: Revolutionizing Higher Education and Computer Science Curricula

DFRobot Feb 15 2024 650

Against the backdrop of evolving higher education, integrating cutting-edge technology into academic curricula is pivotal for nurturing students to meet industry demands. Among the many advancements shaping the future of computing education, RISC-V stands out as an open-source Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) due to its growing influence in top universities worldwide. This article delves into how RISC-V is being woven into the coursework of renowned institutions such as UC Berkeley, MIT, Stanford, ETH Zurich, the Indian Institutes of Technology, and Shandong University, highlighting the unique benefits and opportunities it presents for students and educators. From a comparative standpoint, we'll also discuss RISC-V's distinctive advantages in higher education over traditional architectures like ARM and x86, and we'll recommend some online courses for those interested in learning RISC-V.

RISC-V Integration in UC Berkeley's CS 61C and EECS 251LA Courses

CS 61C: More RISC-V Instructions and How to Implement Functions

The integration of RISC-V into higher education is exemplified by UC Berkeley's CS 61C course, which includes computer organization and design, with a particular focus on the RISC-V architecture. This course, entitled "Great Ideas in Computer Architecture (Machine Structures)," is part of the undergraduate core curriculum at UC Berkeley. It delves into fundamental concepts of computer systems, covering hardware, architecture, assembly code, the C programming language, and software development tools. The course employs the textbook "Computer Organization and Design RISC-V Edition" by David Patterson and John Hennessy, indicating its emphasis on the RISC-V architecture.

Introduction to Digital Design and Integrated Circuits Lab

Another course, EECS 251LA, titled "Introduction to Digital Design and Integrated Circuits," lays the groundwork for modern digital design. It includes scripting, hardware description languages for digital systems, and tool flow interactions. Students engage in extensive design projects, such as implementing a 3-stage RISC-V processor with register files and caches. The hands-on approach to RISC-V processor design in this course offers students a comprehensive understanding of digital system design and implementation.

Moreover, UC Berkeley's influence in disseminating knowledge of the RISC-V ISA is further evidenced by SiFive's RISC-V course, which is based on the university's curriculum. This course reflects Berkeley's expertise and educational resources developed in this area.


RISC-V Instruction Set Architecture in MIT's Computer Architecture Courses

Computer Architecture: A Constructive Approach

Across the country, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has also developed educational materials focused on RISC-V. MIT offers courses that include designing basic RISC-V processors and labs that cover multi-cycle and two-stage pipeline designs. For example, MIT's course 6.175, "Constructive Computer Architecture," features a lab dedicated to RISC-V, showcasing MIT's practical approach to teaching computer architecture with contemporary, relevant technologies. MIT's course MIT-6.S081 also integrates RISC-V into its curriculum, contrasting the simplified instruction set with more complex ones like x86/x86-64, thus providing students with a comprehensive understanding of different computing architectures.


RISC-V Integration in Stanford's CS107E Course

CS107e Winter 2024

Stanford University, with a notable history in the development of RISC architectures, has integrated RISC-V into its courses as well. The CS107E course, "Computer Systems from the Ground Up," has been redesigned for the 2023-24 academic year to focus on single-board computers using RISC-V processors, shifting from the previous use of Raspberry Pi (ARM architecture) to the cutting-edge RISC-V processors. This change reflects Stanford's commitment to remaining at the forefront of computer architecture and processor technology.


RISC-V Innovation and Education at ETH Zurich

PULP - An Open Parallel Ultra-Low-Power Processing-Platform

ETH Zurich in Switzerland, recognized as an important site for RISC-V processor development, has been at the forefront of RISC-V innovation and education. The university's Institute for Integrated Systems, particularly the Digital Circuits and Systems group led by Professor Luca Benini, has played a key role in RISC-V workshops and development activities.


IIT's SHAKTI Project and RISC-V Engagement

Open Source Processor Development Ecosystem

In India, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have shown significant engagement with RISC-V. IIT Madras, through its SHAKTI project, aims to build a family of processors based on the RISC-V ISA. This initiative reflects the institute's pioneering commitment to processor innovation and open standard collaboration. IIT Madras also hosts workshops on RISC-V, providing a platform for experts and enthusiasts to discuss and explore the architecture. IIT Guwahati offers a course on SoC design, focusing on RISC-V SoC, which includes both theoretical instruction and practical labs.


RISC-V Technology Development at Shandong University

Shandong University-Alchip RISC-V

In China, the establishment of the School of Integrated Circuits at Shandong University and the Shandong University-Alchip RISC-V Research Institute on October 13, 2023, marks a significant step in the university's development in the field of integrated circuits, particularly RISC-V technology. The research institute aims to meet national information security strategic needs and solve critical issues of technological autonomy. Shandong University has also established a RISC-V Open Source Club, aiming to promote the prosperity and development of the RISC-V ecosystem.


RISC-V's Unique Features and Advantages in Education


The impact and assistance of RISC-V on higher education and computer science education are significant, especially when compared to ARM and x86 architectures. RISC-V's open-source and extensible nature allows for free use and modification by educational institutions, providing an advantage for academic experimentation without commercial licensing restrictions. The active community and wealth of educational resources, including textbooks, online courses, and tutorials, make RISC-V accessible for the latest in computer architecture and design practices.

RISC-V offers unique opportunities for innovation and research, particularly in custom hardware design and new computing models. Its cost-effectiveness and relevance to industry trends and job opportunities make RISC-V an attractive area of study for students looking to enter the workforce with valuable skills.

In contrast, ARM and x86 architectures, while widely used in the industry, may not offer the same flexibility in education and research due to commercial restrictions. ARM's widespread use in embedded systems and mobile devices typically requires paid licenses, and the complexity and closed nature of the x86 architecture may limit its suitability for academic research.



In conclusion, the integration of RISC-V into the global academic curriculum is not just a testament to its technical prowess but also an indicator of a paradigm shift in computing education. As universities continue to adopt and adapt RISC-V for their courses, they pave the way for a more open, innovative, and collaborative approach to computer science learning. This trend empowers students to explore the frontiers of processor design and architecture without the constraints of licensing and proprietary barriers, fostering an environment where creativity and experimentation can flourish.

The future of RISC-V in education is ripe with possibilities, promising to nurture a generation of computer scientists who are not only well-versed in current technologies but also capable of driving the industry forward through their contributions to open-source communities and beyond. It remains to be seen how this will reshape the landscape of technology, but one thing is certain: the impact of RISC-V on education will be felt for years to come, as it continues to inspire learning and innovation in the field of computer science.


Further Learning Opportunities: Online RISC-V Course Recommendations

As we conclude our discussion, we are excited to offer additional learning opportunities for readers who wish to delve deeper into the world of RISC-V architecture and programming. Firstly, the RISC-V Education Initiative website (https://riscvedu.org/) provides an array of educational resources, including textbooks, online courses, and instructional guidance. This platform, supported by the RISC-V community, aims to facilitate the dissemination and education of RISC-V knowledge.

Moreover, for individuals seeking a more structured learning experience, we recommend the Udemy course titled "Introduction to RISC-V and RISC-V Assembly Programming". This course offers a comprehensive introduction to RISC-V for beginners, covering everything from fundamental concepts to assembly programming. Whether you are a student or a professional, these resources are designed to help you take a confident step into the realm of RISC-V and prepare for the computer science and engineering challenges of the future.