Power ISA
Bits32-bit/64-bit (32 → 64)
Introduced2006; 18 years ago (2006)
BranchingCondition code
ExtensionsAltiVec, PowerPC AS, APU, DSP, CBEA
OpenYes, and royalty free
  • 32× 64/32-bit general-purpose registers
  • 32× 64-bit floating-point registers
  • 64× 128-bit vector registers
  • 32-bit condition code register
  • 32-bit link register
  • 32-bit count register
+ more
A very high level schematic diagram of a generic Power ISA processor

Power ISA is a reduced instruction set computer (RISC) instruction set architecture (ISA) currently developed by the OpenPOWER Foundation, led by IBM. It was originally developed by IBM and the now-defunct Power.org industry group. Power ISA is an evolution of the PowerPC ISA, created by the mergers of the core PowerPC ISA and the optional Book E for embedded applications. The merger of these two components in 2006 was led by Power.org founders IBM and Freescale Semiconductor.

Prior to version 3.0, the ISA is divided into several categories. Processors implement a set of these categories as required for their task. Different classes of processors are required to implement certain categories, for example a server-class processor includes the categories: Base, Server, Floating-Point, 64-Bit, etc. All processors implement the Base category.

Power ISA is a RISC load/store architecture. It has multiple sets of registers:

Instructions up to version 3.0 have a length of 32 bits, with the exception of the VLE (variable-length encoding) subset that provides for higher code density for low-end embedded applications, and version 3.1 which introduced prefixing to create 64-bit instructions. Most instructions are triadic, i.e. have two source operands and one destination. Single- and double-precision IEEE-754 compliant floating-point operations are supported, including additional fused multiply–add (FMA) and decimal floating-point instructions. There are provisions for single instruction, multiple data (SIMD) operations on integer and floating-point data on up to 16 elements in one instruction.

Power ISA has support for Harvard cache, i.e. split data and instruction caches, and support for unified caches. Memory operations are strictly load/store, but allow for out-of-order execution. There is also support for both big and little-endian addressing with separate categories for moded and per-page endianness, and support for both 32-bit and 64-bit addressing.

Different modes of operation include user, supervisor and hypervisor.



The Power ISA specification is divided into five parts, called "books":


New in version 3 of the Power ISA is that you don't have to implement the entire specification to be compliant. The sprawl of instructions and technologies has made the complete specification unwieldy, so the OpenPOWER Foundation have decided to enabled tiered compliancy.

These levels include optional and mandatory requirements, however one common misunderstanding is that there is nothing stopping an implementation from being compliant at a lower level but having additional selected functions from higher levels and custom extensions. It is however recommended that an option be provided to disable any added functions beyond the design's declared subset level.

A design must be compliant at its declared subset level to make use of the Foundation's protection regarding use of intellectual property, be it patents or trademarks. This is explained in the OpenPOWER EULA.[1]

A compliant design must:[2]

If the extension is general-purpose enough, the OpenPOWER Foundation asks that implementors submit it as a Request for Comments (RFC) to the OpenPOWER ISA Workgroup. Note that it is not strictly necessary to join the OpenPOWER Foundation to submit RFCs.[3]

EABI and Linux Compliancy discrepancy

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The EABI specifications predate the announcement and creation of the Compliancy subsets.

Regarding the Linux Compliancy subset having VSX (SIMD) optional: in 2003–4, 64-bit EABI v1.9 made SIMD optional,[4] but in July 2015, to improve performance for IBM POWER9 systems, SIMD was made mandatory in EABI v2.0.[5] This discrepancy between SIMD being optional in the Linux Compliancy level but mandatory in EABI v2.0 cannot be rectified without considerable effort: backwards incompatibility for Linux distributions is not a viable option. At present this leaves new OpenPOWER implementors wishing to run standard Linux distributions having to implement a massive 962 instructions. By contrast, RISC-V RV64GC, the minimum to run Linux, requires only 165.[6]


Power ISA v.2.03

The specification for Power ISA v.2.03[7] is based on the former PowerPC ISA v.2.02[8] in POWER5+ and the Book E[9] extension of the PowerPC specification. The Book I included five new chapters regarding auxiliary processing units like DSPs and the AltiVec extension.

Compliant cores

Power ISA v.2.04

The specification for Power ISA v.2.04[10] was finalized in June 2007. It is based on Power ISA v.2.03 and includes changes primarily to the Book III-S part regarding virtualization, hypervisor functions, logical partitioning and virtual page handling.

Compliant cores

Power ISA v.2.05

The specification for Power ISA v.2.05[11] was released in December 2007. It is based on Power ISA v.2.04 and includes changes primarily to Book I and Book III-S, including significant enhancements such as decimal arithmetic (Category: Decimal Floating-Point in Book I) and server hypervisor improvements.

Compliant cores

Power ISA v.2.06

The specification for Power ISA v.2.06[12] was released in February 2009, and revised in July 2010.[13] It is based on Power ISA v.2.05 and includes extensions for the POWER7 processor and e500-mc core. One significant new feature is vector-scalar floating-point instructions (VSX).[14] Book III-E also includes significant enhancement for the embedded specification regarding hypervisor and virtualisation on single and multi core implementations.

The spec was revised in November 2010 to the Power ISA v.2.06 revision B spec, enhancing virtualization features.[13][15]

Compliant cores

Power ISA v.2.07

The specification for Power ISA v.2.07[16] was released in May 2013. It is based on Power ISA v.2.06 and includes major enhancements to logical partition functions, transactional memory, expanded performance monitoring, new storage control features, additions to the VMX and VSX vector facilities (VSX-2), along with AES[16]: 257 [17] and Galois Counter Mode (GCM), SHA-224, SHA-256,[16]: 258  SHA-384 and SHA-512[16]: 258  (SHA-2) cryptographic extensions and cyclic redundancy check (CRC) algorithms.[18]

The spec was revised in April 2015 to the Power ISA v.2.07 B spec.[19][20]

Compliant cores

Power ISA v.3.0

The specification for Power ISA v.3.0[21][22] was released in November 2015. It is the first to come out after the founding of the OpenPOWER Foundation and includes enhancements for a broad spectrum of workloads and removes the server and embedded categories while retaining backwards compatibility and adds support for VSX-3 instructions. New functions include 128-bit quad-precision floating-point operations, a random number generator, hardware-assisted garbage collection and hardware-enforced trusted computing.

The spec was revised in March 2017 to the Power ISA v.3.0 B spec,[19][23] and revised again to v3.0C in May 2020.[19][24][25] One major change from v3.0 to v3.0B is the removal of support for hardware assisted garbage collection. The key difference between v3.0B and v3.0C is that the Compliancy Levels listed in v3.1 were also added to v3.0C.

Compliant cores

Power ISA v.3.1

The specification for Power ISA v.3.1[19][27] was released in May 2020. Mainly giving support for new functions introduced in Power10, but also includes the notion of optionality to the PowerISA specification. Instructions can now be eight bytes long, "prefixed instructions", compared to the usual four byte "word instructions". A lot of new functions to SIMD and VSX instructions are also added. VSX and the SVP64 extension provide hardware support for 16-bit half precision floats.[28][29]

One key benefit of the new 64-bit prefixed instructions is the extension of immediates in branches to 34-bit.

The spec was revised in September 2021 to the Power ISA v.3.1B spec.[19][30]

The spec was revised in May 2024 to the Power ISA v.3.1C spec.[19][31]

Compliant cores

See also


  1. ^ Final draft of Power ISA EULA
  2. ^ The Open Power ISA: Architecture Compliancy and Future Foundations
  3. ^ Section 2.2 of OPF Power ISA EULA
  4. ^ ELF PP64 ABI
  5. ^ OpenPOWER EABI v2
  6. ^ Page 18 RISC-V "green card"
  7. ^ "Power ISA v.2.03" (PDF). Power.org. 2006-09-29. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-27.
  8. ^ "PowerPC Architecture Book, Version 2.02". IBM. 2005-02-24. Archived from the original on 2007-10-18. Retrieved 2007-03-16.
  9. ^ "PowerPC Book E v.1.0" (PDF). IBM. 2002-05-07. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-03-10. Retrieved 2007-03-16.
  10. ^ "Power ISA Version 2.04" (PDF). Power.org. 2007-06-12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  11. ^ "Power ISA Version 2.05". Power.org. 2007-10-23. Archived from the original on 2012-11-24. Retrieved 2007-12-18.
  12. ^ "Power.org Debuts Specification Advances and New Services At Power Architecture Developer Conference" (Press release). Power.org. 2007-09-24. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. Retrieved 2007-09-24.
  13. ^ a b "Power ISA Version 2.06 Revision B". Power.org. 2010-07-23. Archived from the original on 2012-11-24. Retrieved 2011-02-12.
  14. ^ "Workload acceleration with the IBM POWER vector-scalar architecture". IBM. 2016-03-01. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  15. ^ "Power ISA 2.06 Rev. B enables full hardware virtualization for embedded space". EETimes. 2010-11-03. Retrieved 2011-06-08.
  16. ^ a b c d "Power ISA Version 2.07" (PDF). Power.org. 2013-05-15. Retrieved 2023-11-02.
  17. ^ Barbosa, Leonidas (2014-09-21). "POWER8 in-core cryptography". IBM.
  18. ^ Performance Optimization and Tuning Techniques for IBM Power Systems Processors Including IBM POWER8. IBM. August 2015. p. 48. ISBN 9780738440927.
  19. ^ a b c d e f "Instruction Set Architecture". OpenPOWER Foundation.
  20. ^ "Power ISA Version 2.07 B". Power.org. 2015-04-09. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  21. ^ Announcing a New Era of Openness with Power 3.0
  22. ^ "Power ISA Version 3.0". openpowerfoundation.org. 2016-11-30. Retrieved 2017-01-06.[dead link]
  23. ^ "Power ISA Version 3.0 B". IBM. 2017-03-29. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  24. ^ "Power ISA Version 3.0 C". OpenPOWER Foundation. 2020-05-01. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  25. ^ list of Power ISA specifications
  26. ^ [PATCH, COMMITTED] Add full Power ISA 3.0 / POWER9 binutils support
  27. ^ "Power ISA Version 3.1". OpenPOWER Foundation. 2020-05-01. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  28. ^ "OPF_PowerISA_v3.1B.pdf". OpenPOWER Files. OpenPOWER Foundation. Retrieved 2023-07-02.
  29. ^ "ls005.xlen.mdwn". libre-soc.org Git. Retrieved 2023-07-02.
  30. ^ "Power ISA Version 3.1B". OpenPOWER Foundation. 2021-09-14. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  31. ^ "Power ISA Version 3.1C". OpenPOWER Foundation. 2024-05-26. Retrieved 2024-07-04.
  32. ^ Seo, Carlos Eduardo (2020-05-12). "We released the Instruction Set Architecture for POWER10. Power ISA v3.1 is available at the IBM Portal for OpenPOWER". twitter.com. Retrieved 2020-05-23.