Google makes Android compatible with RISC-V processors… and prepares for after ARM?

While almost all Android devices work with ARM chips, the open-source community has worked so hard on RISC-V that Google has made its AOSP (Android Open Source Project) version compatible with these new chips. And prepare for the future.

In the world of Android, there are only ARM chips. But this state of affairs could change even more quickly than expected. At the RISC-V Summit held in San Jose, California, Google’s operating system achieved a major milestone: support for RISC-V instruction set-based chips in Android AOSP.

This is Lars Bergstrom, the director of engineering and head of programming languages ​​at Google, which formalized support for the open source version of Android (Android Open Source Project or AOSP) for RISC-V chips. A fundamental support, but however incomplete: in addition to the years of optimizations from which the ARM chips have benefited, it also and above all lacks the execution environment for the applications (Android Runtime or ART). In short: if the Android system officially supports RISC V chips and development boards, the same does not apply to applications. Many software tools – including compilers and drivers – will still need to be developed or adapted for a complete app ecosystem to emerge. But this announcement shows that the “RISC-V revolution” is on the way.

Everyone pushes RISC-V

The first adaptations of Android AOSP capable of working with RISC-V chips, we owe them to Alibaba. Very advanced in the control of these chips for reasons of sovereignty (it is a Swiss foundation which manages this open architecture, and not a Western private company as for ARM and x86), the Chinese has its own development unit of semiconductors. A team called “T-Head” that designs its own RISC-V cores as well as its own chips. And Alibaba is not alone in working to popularize RISC-V. There is also the chip production chain that is present, from the giant Intel, which has announced that it will support the engraving of chips with its open foundry program, via TSMC and SiFive who have already validated the production process in 5 nm. And there are also government players like NASA and ESA, which have adopted these cores for their space processors of the future.

Read also: Why NASA and ESA are betting on RISC V for their future space chips (Sept. 2022)

While the entire hardware industry is swirling around RISC-V, the software world is no exception. Because Google’s announcement is not isolated: support for RISC-V is growing month by month on Linux, a system that is the source of the Android kernel. While no distro was running a RISC-V system properly just two years ago, the ecosystem already has graphics drivers for some GPUs. And should even enjoy a Dedicated GPU within a few months.

Android yes, but…

A RISC-V development board under Android with a touchscreen interface… like a smartphone. / CNLinux

Far from being a flash in the pan, the rise of RISC-V is more like a groundswell. Which could end in a tidal wave if the traditional actors do not take the good wind. From Alibaba to SiFive, more and more companies are developing “custom” CPU cores. And startups like Ventana Microsystems are already preparing supercomputer chips engraved in 5 nm and embedding 192 cores!

Read also: The first RISC-V processor for PC arrives and poses as an alternative to ARM (Sep 2020)

From there to predicting the arrival of RISC-V chips in our smartphones within three years, there is only one step… which would be risky to take. On the one hand, Android should not be confined to a mobile vision: Google’s operating system can be used to operate a number of other devices. On the other hand, the fragmentation of the Android world, caused by the multitude of ARM chip vendors and suppliers, has long harmed the stability of the ecosystem. There is no doubt that Android pundits will be very (very!) vigilant before validating any chip for versions of Android integrating Google Mobile Services.

Source :

RISC-V Foundation (via Twitter)

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Google makes Android compatible with RISC-V processors… and prepares for after ARM?

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