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19 May 2011, 08:09

What's new in Linux 2.6.39

by Thorsten Leemhuis

The latest Linux kernel offers drivers for AMD's current high-end graphics chips and ipsets that simplify firewall implementation and maintenance. The Ext4 file system and the block layer are now said to work faster and offer improved scalability. Hundreds of new or improved drivers enhance the kernel's hardware support.

Version 2.6.39 once again took Linus Torvalds and his fellow developers less than 70 days to complete. This is further indication of a slight, though ever more apparent, increase in the kernel's development speed, as about 80 to 90 days still passed between the release of two versions one or two years ago. With 2.6.39, this also meant that there was a slight decrease in the number of advancements which are worth mentioning in the Kernel Log; however, there are still plenty of changes that will make Linux faster and better.

This article will provide a brief description of the new Linux version's most important improvements. Many of these improvements affect not only servers but also notebooks and desktop PCs. The distribution kernels will bring the improvements to the majority of Linux systems in the short or medium term, as these kernels are based on the kernels released by Linus Torvalds.


The Radeon driver of kernel version 2.6.39 will support the Cayman family of graphics chips that AMD is using, models such as the current Radeon HD 6790 to 6970 cards (see 1, 2). However, these cards' 2D and 3D acceleration features are unavailable because there is no DRM support; future kernel versions will fix this problem.

The Nouveau driver for NVIDIA GPUs now supports Z compression. The developers have also fixed a performance issue that reportedly reduced performance by 10 to 30 per cent.

The developers of the graphics drivers for Intel chips have made numerous minor changes; some of them reduce the power consumption of recent graphics cores (see 1, 2, 3) or improve performance in certain situations. The developers have added a rudimentary graphics driver for the GMA500, a graphics device that was previously considered a big problem under Linux. It is included in Intel's US15W ("Poulsbo") chipset, which was originally designed for the embedded market but is used in netbooks by some manufacturers.

In detail

This article provides an overview of the most important changes of Linux version 2.6.39. More detailed information can be found in the Kernel Logs of the "Coming in 2.6.39" mini series, released over the past few weeks on The H Open, which form the basis of this article.

In these articles, you will find the more detailed source articles that cover the important changes in each particular area. There is also the "Minor gems" section which lists the many other changes not mentioned in the main article but which, for many users, are still of great significance.

For example, in the article on Drivers, "Minor gems" lists the numerous patches to support the video 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.

Next: Networking, Infrastructure and Virtualisation

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