Linux kernel update brings a new wave of hardware support

New and enhanced drivers will help make compatibility problems a thing of the past for users of the open source os

Updates to the Linux kernel are always exciting because of the advance look they provide at what's to come in upcoming Linux distributions, and Thursday's 2.6.39 release is no exception.

Perhaps most notable for the hundreds of new drivers it includes -- portending a world of even better hardware support in upcoming distributions of the free and open source operating system -- the new release also includes virtualization improvements, simplified firewall configuration and a host of other new features.

Though it was delayed by a few days, work on version 2.6.39 "has been fairly 'easy'," Linux creator Linus Torvalds wrote in an explanatory e-mail announcing the release.

Not only did the release take just 65 days of development, but "-rc2 was calm, -rc3 was _really_ calm, and -rc7 was tiny," Torvalds explained. "And while this has more commits than -rc7 had, I didn't feel like that changed the overall picture much: we really did have much less churn after the merge window closed than we usually do. Which actually makes me pretty happy about the state of 2.6.39."

AMD 'Cayman' Graphics Support

Among the new and enhanced drivers present in Linux kernel 2.6.39 are support for AMD "Cayman" high-end graphics cards and GPUs as well as drivers for Samsung notebook function keys and Realtek RTL8192CU and RTL8188CU Wi-Fi chips, according to a report on The H.

The b43 driver code for Broadcom 802.11n chips has also been bolstered so that BCM4321 and BCM4322 components, among others, are now at least partly supported. Then there's the iwlwifi driver, which now reportedly supports Intel 2000 series WLAN chips.

An enhanced Nouveau driver boosts support for Nvidia GPUs while a basic Poulsbo KMS driver is included, but without acceleration support, Phoronix reports.

'IP set' for Firewalls

Support for IP set, meanwhile, makes it easier to configure and deploy a firewall, while a new network back-end eases Xen virtualization. Bluetooth code has been enhanced, and modified TCP protocol code can reduce perceived latencies during network communication by as much as 10 percent, The H reports.

Two downsides to the new release, on the other hand, include the fact that the Linux kernel is still "burning through power," according to Phoronix, as well as that support for Intel's Sandy Bridge processors is not yet included.

Linux distributions such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint are drawing more attention and users than ever before thanks to their ever-improving compatibility and usability. It's great to see all the many improvements that are still to come.

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)
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