Google Wants RISC-V To Be a ‘Tier-1’ Android Architecture

Google Wants RISC-V To Be a ‘Tier-1’ Android Architecture (



from the still-several-years-away dept.

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google’s keynote at the RISC-V Summit was all about bold proclamations […]. Lars Bergstrom, Android’s director of engineering, wants RISC-V to be seen as a “tier-1 platform” in Android, which would put it on par with Arm. That’s a big change from just six months ago. Bergstrom says getting optimized Android builds on RISC-V will take “a lot of work” and outlined a roadmap that will take “a few years” to come to fruition, but AOSP started to land official RISC-V patches back in September. The build system is up and running, and anyone can grab the latest “riscv64” branch whenever they want — and yes, in line with its recent Arm work, Google wants RISC-V on Android to be 64-bit only. For now, the most you can get is a command line, and Bergstrom’s slide promised “initial emulator support by the start of 2023, with Android RunTime (ART) support for Java workloads following during Q1.”

One of Bergstrom’s slides featured the above “to-do” list, which included a ton of major Android components. Unlike Android’s unpolished support for x86, Bergstrom promised a real push for quality with RISC-V, saying, “We need to do all of the work to move from a prototype and something that runs to something that’s really singing — that’s showing off the best-in-class processors that [RISC-V International Chairman Krste Asanovic] was mentioning in the previous talk.” Once Google does get Android up and running on RISC-V, then it will be up to manufacturers and the app ecosystem to back the platform. What’s fun about the Android RunTime is that when ART supports RISC-V, a big chunk of the Android app ecosystem will come with it. Android apps ship as Java code, and the way that becomes an ARM app is when the Android Runtime compiles it into ARM code. Instead, it will soon compile into RISC-V code with no extra work from the developer. Native code that isn’t written in Java, like games and component libraries, will need to be ported over, but starting with Java code is a big jump-start.

In her opening remarks, RISC-V International (the nonprofit company that owns the architecture) CEO Calista Redmond argued that “RISC-V is inevitable” thanks to the open business model and wave of open chip design that it can create, and it’s getting hard to argue against that. While the show was mostly about the advantages of RISC-V, I want to add that the biggest reason RISC-V seems inevitable is that current CPU front-runner Arm has become an unstable, volatile company, and it feels like any viable alternative would have a good shot at success right now. […] The other reason to kick Arm to the curb is the US-China trade war, specifically that Chinese companies (and the Chinese government) would really like to distance themselves from Western technology. […] RISC-V is seen as a way to be less reliant on the West. While the project started at UC Berkeley, RISC-V International says the open source architecture is not subject to US export law. In 2019, the RISC-V Foundation actually moved from the US to Switzerland and became “RISC-V International,” all to try to avoid picking a side in the US-China trade war. The result is that Chinese tech companies are rallying around RISC-V as the future chip architecture. One Chinese company hit by US export restrictions, the e-commerce giant Alibaba, has been the leading force in bringing RISC-V support to Android, and with Chinese companies playing a huge part in the Android ecosystem, it makes sense that Google would throw open the doors for official support. Now we just need someone to build a phone.

A LISP programmer knows the value of everything, but the cost of nothing.
— Alan Perlis


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