Android's Shift to RISC-V
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Android is veering towards a RISC-V-centric future, evident from Google's announcement of official RISC-V support for Android and its intent to place it alongside Arm as a primary platform. While the software foundation has been set, Qualcomm is introducing the first mainstream RISC-V Android SoC. Developed in tandem with Google, this yet-to-be-named "RISC-V Snapdragon Wear" chip is a landmark in RISC-V Android ventures. Qualcomm emphasizes that their collaborative effort will lay the foundation for more Android products to leverage low-power, high-performance custom CPUs.
The ascent of RISC-V could challenge the dominance of Arm's CPU architecture in mobile devices. Its open-source nature potentially offers a more cost-effective and adaptable solution, allowing firms to create chips without Arm's licensing fees. An entirely open-source chip is within reach, allowing companies to rival Arm's chip business model.
Arm's tumultuous journey, including its aborted Nvidia sale, IPO, and controversies over licensing fees, combined with its role in the US-China trade tensions, have positioned RISC-V as a globally appealing alternative. This appeal is also heightened by concerns about RISC-V bypassing US export control on chips.
Though Qualcomm has previously incorporated RISC-V cores in its products, its major function has been as minor microcontrollers in larger Arm SoCs. The company claims to have dispatched over 650 million RISC-V cores, but none have served as the primary system CPUs.
Transitioning RISC-V to serve as the main system CPU for Android will be an arduous task, necessitating extensive software ecosystem support. However, given that most Android apps are crafted in Java or Kotlin and are compiled through the Android Runtime (ART), transitioning to RISC-V may be simpler than it seems. The main challenge arises with apps crafted using the Android NDK, which caters to high-performance code in C and C++.
In any case, the journey for an Android RISC-V ecosystem has begun, and Qualcomm assures that more details on the RISC-V wearable solution will be unveiled in the future.
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