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Will Intel's Ivy Bridge Be Trouble-Free On Linux?

Intel

Published on 07 January 2012 02:00 PM EST
Written by Michael Larabel in Intel
4 Comments

It was nearly one year ago to the day that Intel launched their Sandy Bridge processors. While these CPUs with much-improved integrated graphics are now wildly popular for Linux users (and Microsoft Windows users, too), it wasn't without a rough start. But how will Intel's upcoming Ivy Bridge launch fair under Linux as the successor to Sandy Bridge?

One year ago when the Sandy Bridge CPUs first began appearing (prior to the brief chipset recall), at launch the Linux support was criticized by SemiAccurate.com since it wasn't there "out of the box" with Ubuntu 10.10. It's not easy to install upgraded open-source graphics drivers for normal Linux desktop users, so the Sandy Bridge Linux launch was basically botched.

There was also some pesky bugs with the production Sandy Bridge hardware that took a while to work out, so that even in Ubuntu 11.04 the support was less than ideal. Fortunately, Intel OSTC developers responsible for the open-source Linux graphics stack worked out all of the issues in the months that followed. When those issues were out of the way, they made some mighty impressive performance optimizations, new features (e.g. VA-API support), etc. Lately their latest effort has been on OpenGL 3.0 support.

At the Sandy Bridge launch I didn't even have any processors on hand, but then due to the troubling Sandy Bridge Linux launch, I ended up getting one from Intel PR at the Consumer Electronics Show. Now on my way to CES2012, I'm left wondering how Ivy Bridge will fare when it launches within a few months.

To date I've only had access to Ivy Bridge hardware for a few minutes in some foreign beer-drinking utopia, but that recent experience was good. Ivy Bridge Linux support has been hacked on going back to early 2011 with most of the components having been in the mainline trees (Linux kernel, libdrm, Mesa, xf86-video-ati) for months. The big issue though will be of any bugs cropping up, especially with the production hardware once the various motherboard vendors start doing weird things.

The rough requirements for Intel Ivy Bridge Linux graphics support is expected (based upon monitoring the commit logs and what I played with previously) is the Linux 3.2 kernel, Mesa 8.0 (what up until now was known as Mesa 7.12-devel), and xf86-video-intel 2.17 (or 2.18 by the time IVB hardware is here, but the DDX these days is not too important). These requirements will be met by Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, Fedora 17, and others.

With the above-mentioned components there should be working OpenGL 2.1/3.0 acceleration, 2D acceleration, and VA-API (if you fetch the latest libva) video playback support. Features like triple-monitor Ivy Bridge support are also included. So assuming there are no last-minute issues, the first round of 2012 Linux distributions should be in good shape for "out of the box" Ivy Bridge graphics support.

However, there's always the bugs... It looks like there may be some last-minute issues concerning a mysterious IRQ problem. Eugeni Dodonov, an Intel OSTC developer, wrote on his blog: "several alternatives were proposed by Chris Wilson and Eric Anholt to solve the mysterious missed IRQ issue which affects Ivy Bridge (and some Sandy Bridge) machines. The winner in this competition, however, was Daniel Vetter, who came with a simple patch that not only had solved the issues in a nice way, but also allowed us to remove several workarounds which were added in the past. So far, all my Ivy Bridge machines are up and running for some days without any problems – which is totally awesome!"

So with the code set to be merged into the Linux 3.3 kernel the Ivy Bridge support should be stable for lasting days without this IRQ issue. Let's hope the IRQ fixing though will end up in the stable Linux 3.2 series or back-ported by distribution vendors into their next releases or else we might have a botched Intel Ivy Bridge Linux launch.

We won't know until the production hardware is shipping how well the Linux support is (hopefully with same-day Intel IVB Linux benchmarks at Phoronix!), but so far things are looking up. The performance of Ivy Bridge graphics is also great.

Even if there are a few Linux bugs at launch, at least it's better than the latest open-source AMD and NVIDIA hardware support. Within Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and others, there will only be binary driver support for the AMD Radeon HD 7000 "Southern Islands" and NVIDIA GeForce 600 "Kepler" series graphics cards. At least though the binary Linux graphics drivers tend to be stable and mostly trouble-free, along with being easy to upgrade.

Hopefully this coming week at CES2012 I'll hear more about Ivy Bridge.

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