Google Removes RISC-V Support From the Android Common Kernel — But Denies Abandoning the ISA

Company blames the "rapid rate of iteration" for its removal, but says "Android will continue to support RISC-V."

Gareth Halfacree
30 days agoHW101 / Wearables

Google has reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the free and open source RISC-V architecture in its Android operating system — even as it issues patches that remove RISC-V compatibility from the Android Common Kernel (ACK).

Availability of application-class 64-bit processors built on the RISC-V architecture has given rise to interest in building mobile devices — with Alibaba's T-Head division, which has created its own open source RISC-V core designs, the first to release a version of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) for RISC-V, shortly after the PLCT Lab demonstrated a minimal boot in November 2020.

Google's announcement that RISC-V would be a first-class Android target remains, even in the face of the removal of support in the Android Common Kernel. (📹: Google)

It wasn't until November last year, though, that Google weighed in with the announcement that RISC-V would be treated as a first-class target with official AOSP support and the ability for developers to experiment even in the absence of being hands-on with RISC-V hardware by using the Cuttlefish Virtual Device system. A roadmap disclosed by the company included fully-featured emulators in 2024, initially targeting wearables, and a partnership with the RISC-V Software Ecosystem (RISE) project.

Now, though, Google has raised eyebrows with the release of patches, which remove the nascent support for RISC-V from the Android Generic Kernel Image (GKI) provided under the Android Common Kernel (ACK) project — a fork of the Linux kernel that includes Android-specific but vendor-neutral modifications. Brought to our attention by Android Authority, the patches are described as removing "riscv64" support from the ACK — based on the fact that "support for risc64 [sic] GKI kernels is discontinued."

Google, however, has denied this means it is abandoning its efforts. "Android will continue to support RISC-V," the company claims in a statement made in response to the article highlighting the patches. "Due to the rapid rate of iteration, we are not ready to provide a single supported image for all vendors. This particular series of patches removes RISC-V support from the Android Generic Kernel Image (GKI)," which it must be noted isn't quite the same as support being entirely discontinued.

At the time of writing Google had not issued an updated roadmap for when AOSP will gain full RISC-V support, nor when we're likely to see the first commercial RISC-V Android devices.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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