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Some Distributions Still Live In A KMS-Less World

Operating Systems

Published on 25 March 2011 12:05 PM EDT
Written by Michael Larabel in Operating Systems
13 Comments

One of the most commonly mentioned terms at Phoronix is KMS, as in kernel mode-setting, whereby the GPU mode-setting is done in kernel-space rather than user-space with an X.Org DDX driver. The major open-source drivers were quick to adopt KMS support in their DRM drivers since it allows for cool features like a cleaner boot process, faster and more reliable VT switching, more reliable suspend-and-resume, greater security by running the X Server as a normal user, the ability to have a Linux kernel panic message (like a Windows BSOD), and for new technologies like the Wayland Display Server to emerge. However, not all Linux distributions are yet on this KMS bandwagon.

Zenwalk 7.0 was released this morning and it ships with LibreOffice 3.3.1, Xfce 4.8.1, Linux 2.6.37.4 kernel, and other new and updated packages. Zenwalk is one of the popular Slackware-derived distributions that has support for binary packages. Interestingly though, the Zenwalk 7.0 release announcement mentions "The Zenwalk 7.0 kernel will be 2.6.37.4, with KMS support. KMS is disabled by default but can be enabled easily in the bootloader configuration."

This puts Zenwalk 7.0 in the boat of very few Linux distributions that aren't utilizing kernel mode-setting by default. The Intel and Nouveau (NVIDIA) open-source drivers don't even support user-space mode-setting any longer. With AMD, for their Radeon HD 6900 "Cayman" graphics cards and future ASICs, they're only tackling the support on the KMS side, but they haven't outright removed UMS support yet for existing graphics processors. With that said, it's interesting that Zenwalk 7.0 is still not using KMS by default even when they have all of the necessary components in place. Interestingly, they are also still shipping with Mesa 7.9 although Mesa 7.10 is available in their testing repository.

As for non-KMS-by-default, perhaps they just hate the Linux kernel DRM problems?

Granted, Zenwalk isn't Fedora, Ubuntu, openSUSE, or another one of the major players, all of which are now on KMS paths, even with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.0. Zenwalk's just always been an interesting distribution in my book in past years with KateOS, Morphix, and others.

Aside from Linux distributions, the BSDs are also still missing from the KMS party. This is, however, because the necessary Linux DRM and KMS code hasn't yet been ported to the different BSD flavors. This though is being worked on and will hopefully be worked out in the coming months. There's also the binary Linux graphics drivers from AMD and NVIDIA that still lack kernel mode-setting support.

For those interested, Zenwalk 7.0 is available for download at Zenwalk.org.

About The Author
Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the web-site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience and being the largest web-site devoted to Linux hardware reviews, particularly for products relevant to Linux gamers and enthusiasts but also commonly reviewing servers/workstations and embedded Linux devices. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics hardware drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated testing software. He can be followed via and or contacted via .
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