learning linux

Options: when your hardware is not supported

Open source graphic drivers are getting better, however some people still have issues


  •  Introduction
  • The proprietary route
  • Should you update your kernel?
  • Understanding the Linux Kernel
  • What does each kernel update bring?
  • About the kernel in “luna”


tux-elementaryThe majority of people who want to install elementary as their primary operation system can do so successfully however there is a minority who may run into unforeseen challenges especially when your hardware is not supported by open source drivers.  But there are other options.

This article attempts to highlight some of the common challenges and communicate those options while defining the risks in simplest of terms. If you are in that minority you should always seek advice in the elementarynow forum.  Guaranteed!, you will not be the first to experience such an issue.

If you do not already know by now elementary (alongside its other qualities) is one of the fastest and slickest operating systems out there and you do not need the latest hardware to achieve maximum performance. The majority of the challenges facing the unfortunate few are down to the availability of drivers to support the latest hardware on new machines (some graphics cards are particularly notorious)

Open source graphic drivers are getting better and faster at delivering support for these latest technologies. These drivers will are always playing “catch-up” when new hardware is introduced to the market place, sometimes leaving you with hardware that cannot be immediately supported. Keep in mind the time it takes to code, test and stabilize.

What are your options?

    • You can always go the proprietary route by downloading and installing the drivers from your graphics cards vendors’ website. Do this with the knowledge they will not be supported with regular updates and the onus is on you to maintain them.
    • Continue to check until such a time your hardware becomes supported by open source drivers then replace your proprietary ones.
    • Move to another Linux distribution (temporarily) where their release date permitted developers to test and support a more recent Linux kernel than elementary OS
    • If you choose to stick with elementary OS and the proprietary drivers are still causing issues it is possible to install a later Linux kernel. Do this with the knowledge it may cause additional stability issues as it has not been tested by elementary OS developers,
    • Be patient… it is highly anticipated in early 2014 elementary OS will replace its current release, committing to a later kernel and triggering a new long term support period until 2019. This could fix the compatibility with your hardware


Should you update your Linux kernel?

To make an informed decision it is important to understand the Linux Kernel and its relationship with elementary OS as well as what each kernel update brings. elementarynow has described this below.

Understanding the Linux kernel

    • The Linux kernel is the lowest level of easily replaceable software on your computer.
    • In the simplest of terms it interfaces all the applications you run on your computer with the hardware.
    • It is one of the largest open source projects in the world with millions of lines of code and is constantly being updated.
    • It is renowned throughout the IT world simply because technologically it is widely accepted to be superior” and way more advanced than Microsoft’s hybrid Windows kernel.
    • A user of any Linux distribution (including elementary OS) has the “freedom” to upgrade their kernel during a distributions release life-cycle.
    • Many articles appear online making an upgrade simple to execute
    • At the time of writing the current stable Linux kernel version is 3.12 (there is a release candidate for v3.13)
    • When elementary OS (v0.2 code named “luna”) was released in August 2013 it committed to the Linux kernel v3.2

What does each kernel update bring?

    1. Security Fixes: every kernel update has security fixes that close up holes that have been discovered. This is probably the most important reason to update your kernel. Security risks are minimal in Linux and the average desktop user is relatively safe from security breaches without update
    2. Stability: every kernel update can fix existing issues that make your system crash through regular use. This is debatable as some suggest it actually decreases stability because the latest kernel has not been tested by the developers of the distribution you are using (in our case elementary OS). Stability issues will be addressed by your distributions developers through regular updates during its support life cycle.
      • In the elementary OS “luna” case the support cycle ends in 2017.
      • The release of elementary OS “Isis” is expected sometime in 2014 to replace luna. It will ship with a newer kernel triggering a new long term support period until 2019. (Speculation)
    3. Kernel Functions: Occasionally, major updates to the Linux kernel can also add some new functions. If your system works now you should not update your kernel for this reason.
    4. Updated Drivers: With every new computer comes the latest hardware and driver support may not be available in the elementary OS v3.2 kernel. Every updated kernel brings new expansive driver support.


About the Kernel in Luna

In a recent address to the elementary community Sergey “Shnatsel” Davidoff who served as the OS architect for during its development gave a stern warning “why you should not mess with the kernel, and how to do it properly if you absolutely must”. You can read the article in full here but in summary he stated.

  • The elementary stock kernel (3.2) is more stable compared to later kernels.
  • There has been “flurry of very dangerous “Upgrade your Luna kernel” articles recently” and he described how these compromise the stability of your system
  • He also describes how to safely upgrade your kernel “if you absolutely must” but do not if your system is working or your only looking for improved performance

As Sergey put it “Unfortunately, not all hardware support is feasible to backport and not all hardware would work out-of-the-box with Luna, and our stock kernel is not ideally stable on all of the hardware out there. So there are a few cases when a kernel upgrade may actually be needed”

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June 2023

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