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The new features of Linux 2.6.31

September 24, 2009

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.

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” X.org 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 X.org 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.

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