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Driver problem with new Intel chips

A few days ago, Intel released version 2.14 of the xf86-video-intel driver. It is part of the "Intel 2010Q4 release" that contains Linux kernel 2.6.37, Libdrm 2.4.23, Libva 1.07 and Mesa3D 7.10. These and some other parts are needed for full support for the graphics core of the Core i3-2000, Core i5-2000 and Core i7-2000 Sandy Bridge processors Intel introduced early January; before the release of this new driver, people had to use developer snapshots for some of the driver bits.

None of the current mainstream distributions contain these drivers yet, which is why they only work via the VESA driver on Sandy Bridge CPUs. Installing the required parts of the graphics stack became easier with the release of the updated drivers, but is quite complicated, requires advanced Linux skills and a considerable time investment – most users will, therefore, need to wait until the new driver has been integrated into the distributions.

This type of problem isn't new, as the situation with older Intel chip-sets and processors was initially similar, and was even worse for hardware from other vendors. However, due to reviews such as this one on the SemiAccurate web site, the topic sparked further discussions when the new processors were introduced. An Intel employee has responded with a blog posting, explaining how the situation came about.

The blog posting also refers to a forum contribution at Real World Technologies. On this forum, Linus Torvalds relates his experience when setting up a Sandy Bridge system and gives an outline of the many steps he needed to take to get his system running, calling the whole procedure "annoying". Things are only likely to improve with such distributions as Ubuntu 11.04 or Fedora 15, which are due for release in the spring and whose pre-release versions should soon include the driver components required for Sandy Bridge CPUs, if they don't include them already. Time will tell whether the same applies for openSUSE 11.4, which is due for release in early March.

In his forum comment, Torvalds also expressed the hope that many distributions will provide the Sandy Bridge drivers as updates for their current versions. The enterprise distributions will probably do so sooner or later, but openSUSE and Ubuntu rarely provide such updates; in Fedora, they happen occasionally. Many other distributions are also forcing users to wait for newer versions (see also the comment Linux distributions need fresher drivers).

Standard tools

With its preview of version 2.19, the util-linux-ng tool collection has dropped the "-ng" and is now called util-linux. The extension had identified the fork of the original collection of command line utilities – however, as the latter is no longer maintained, the developers recently decided to drop the "-ng".

In his release email, Karel Zak lists the most important advances of version 2.19. The lsblk program, which lists all storage media in a tree structure, is among the new additions. Also new is fstrim, which informs storage media about newly deallocated memory areas via the "Batched Discard" feature. This feature was introduced with kernel version 2.6.37 and is, for instance, important for SSDs. The partx, findmnt, agetty and fsck programs now accept additional parameters, while rtcwake and swapon offer new functions.

Next: Kernel version status

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