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10 September 2009, 07:33

The Next Round

The new features of Linux 2.6.31

by Thorsten Leemhuis

The latest version of Linux offers a whole host of new features – for example a USB 3.0 infrastructure, drivers for the Sound Blaster X-Fi, KMS support for Radeon chips and improved versions of Btrfs and Ext4. As is traditional with new Linux versions in the main development branch, however, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Kernel Log logo After nine release candidates and just under three months in development, Linus Torvalds has released Linux version 2.6.31. Like its predecessors in the main development line, it offers a whole host of new features.

Among the new features are USB 3.0 support and support of several Sound Blaster X-Fi cards by Creative. The kernel makes better use of the power saving techniques offered by modern Wi-Fi hardware and is now also capable of Kernel-Based Mode-Setting (KMS) with Radeon graphics cards up to model X1950. From now on, distributions are to use the more recent of the two FireWire stacks, which with the new kernel version will at last offer 'IP over 1394' networking support.

The new kernel's experimental Btrfs, scheduled to become the "next generation file system for Linux", is now said to be faster and more memory efficient and the first components for de-fragmenting Ext4 file systems have been included into the main development branch. The new performance counters allow a detailed analysis of the run-time behaviour of program code. The developers also considerably modified and improved the recently introduced tracing infrastructure.


This article can only provide an overview of the most important changes of Linux version 2.6.31. More detailed information can be found in the various parts of the Kernel Log's "What's coming in 2.6.31" mini series released over the past few weeks on The H Open and which form the basis of this article.

In these articles, you will find the main sections that make up this article and an "In Brief" section which details many other important changes. There is also the "Minor gems" section which lists the many other changes which are not mentioned in the main article but for many users are of great importance.

For example, in the article on graphics, audio and video, "Minor gems" list the numerous patches to support the audio hardware on different PCs, notebooks and motherboards, and lists the changes to the V4L/DVB subsystem, which includes the addition of product names for TV hardware that the Linux kernel now recognises.

The following offers an overview of these and many other important changes in the new Linux version. These changes will eventually trickle through even to users who don't compile their own Linux systems as future Linux distributions start to include the new kernel version (or one of its successors). Kernel 2.6.31 is likely to be included as part of the new Autumn releases of Fedora, openSUSE and Ubuntu, and so will soon be in use by most Linux users.

Flicker-free X start-up for Radeon graphics chips

Having added the Intel-specific Kernel-Based Mode-Setting (KMS) support with 2.6.29, the developers have now integrated KMS code for Radeon graphics chips by AMD/ATI. Masterminded by the programmers of the "radeon" driver, the newly integrated KMS code supports Radeon GPUs up to series R5XX – this includes all Radeon models up to and including X1950. KMS support for R6xx and R7xx GPUs of the Radeon HD series 2000, 3000 and 4000 will be added in Linux 2.6.32, together with the long-awaited 3D support in the kernel for newer Radeon GPUs. However, even the Radeon KMS code integrated with 2.6.31 hasn't reached full maturity yet; as a result, the developers have marked it as a staging driver for now.

The developers have extended the Intel KMS driver to support monitor control via DisplayPort (DP). In addition, they made numerous corrections to improve the existing KMS and GEM code – as a result, the recently released version 2.8 of the driver reportedly works best with Linux 2.6.31. The Intel crew have also contributed KMS code and patches to support a chip-set designated IGDNG. The acronym stands for "Intel Graphics Device Next Generation" and is believed to be the graphics cores for the Westmere family processors, Clarkdale and Arrandale, which will be called Core i3 and i5 when released.

Next: Audio and video

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