Sandybridge on Linux – it will be an absolute joy!

So, there has been a lot of noise around Sandybridge and Linux support. Most of the criticism has come from Charlie Demerjian over at semiaccurate.com.

Now we at Intel like Charlie, we are fans and he does an important job of keeping the industry on its toes. He has been a big proponent of Linux use and follows our work in this field closely. But he has been somewhat unfair this time.

Charlie’s main source of frustration is that his current distro of Linux (Ubuntu 10.10) doesn’t support Sandybridge, and therefore delivered a terrible experience. One would naturally assume, just like Charlie did, that Intel need only plop down some nice fresh drivers and voila: A pleasant Sandybridge experience on Linux.

Unfortunately this is where the complex reality somewhat gets in the way, and here is the situation as I understand it:

You see, the graphics subsystem in Linux is actually a complex web of interdependencies and all the related components all have to be updated for a new graphics hardware to work. The Linux software components called ‘Mesa’, the kernel, ‘libdrm’, ‘cairo’, ‘libva’ and ‘x86-video-intel’ are all the parts that have to be updated and released into the wild for this all to work. This isn’t unusual, it is just the way it is.

Now, some of you may say: ‘But AMD and Nvidia drivers are easily updatable’. Well yes and no. It is true that in certain cases, you can update some parts of those systems, but they rely on closed-sourced code maintained only by those companies and not the Linux community – and updating a single component can affect the rest of the system. This is not wrong, nor it is right; it is a choice. Although it is a far cry from the open source ideal of Linux. Although this blog isn’t meant to be a open vs closed argument. I do have to say that some of these companies are also pursuing open source efforts, and they have the same issues we do in this regard. That said, there have been complaints about the lack for drivers for other hardware vendors too.

So the rub is this: You will have to wait for the new distribution of your flavour of Linux, and although Intel has some influence over this (as we do contribute to Linux in a significant way), we can by no means control release dates.

But don’t take my word for any of this, there is a conversation about this topic on the Real World Tech Forums right now, and even Linus Torvalds himself is dishing out advice. He describes how to compile the components yourself (as the source code is available).

When will the new distro releases be available? We hope it is soon. Linus says: ‘more like “April 2011″. Before that, you’ll have to find things like daily builds or do your own’.

So although we want Linux Sandybridge support to be available today, unless you are a hardcore user happy to compile his or her own components, you will have to wait a little while. I can’t give you a date, but you can bet we are doing everything in our power to make that date sooner rather than later.

Our engineers have been working hard to make sure that running Linux on Sandybridge will be an absolute joy.

16 Responses to Sandybridge on Linux – it will be an absolute joy!

  1. Anon says:

    intelligent person says: “Nobody cares about Linux, and especially not graphics on Linux.”
    => WRONG. Intel cares…An Intel guy (Jesse Barnes) working on the Linux side responds to the driver issue and Sandy Bridge hardware.
    From here: http://www.phoronix.com/forums/showpo
    “No, this is our job, and we blew it for Sandy Bridge. We’re supposed to do development well ahead of product release, and make sure distros include the necessary code to get things working (we have separate teams to do development and aid distros in backporting, though most of them can handle it by themselves these days).
    I could give you all sorts of explanations as to why this is (Sandy Bridge is a big architectural change, we made some mistakes in defining our development milestones, and we didn’t work hard enough to get our changes backported), but really there’s no excuse. Fortunately we’ve learned from this and are giving ourselves more time and planning better for Sandy Bridge’s successor, Ivy Bridge.”

  2. Gary C says:

    I am very relieved to see that the Linux drivers should be ready on time. As a long time Linux desktop user, I am much relieved by this. I greatly appreciate your efforts.
    On the other hand, I am dismayed by the DRM anti-feature you are planning to include on the chip. Didn’t you learn anything from the Pentium serial number debacle? Hint: It isn’t the **AA who is buying your processors. This identifier also has very serious privacy implications that don’t bode well for end users. And it is not like we don’t have an alternative source of desktop processors. (AMD and soon, Nvidia) I am not the only one expressing this sentiment, it is widely felt. I am currently running with a 980x, but I would take a performance hit if it means getting a sans DRM processor. As with the unique identifier, please provide a means for users to disable this.

  3. Nick Knupffer says:

    Gary C – not sure I understand what you mean – there is no unique identifier added.
    I would also be remiss in not pointing out that every PC and connected device on earth already has a unique identifier in the form of a MAC address in the network card.

  4. a says:

    Ubuntu Maverick was released a long time ago — backports are trivial if you have a working package, and a willing test userbase. The natty packages are already out — remember natty is unreleased.
    You could talk to canonical and ask for a private personal package archive i you were actually fussed — canonical could maintain the build farm, and you could write an NDA with canonical and put that in place to stop the code disappearing into the public domain.
    No fuss — most people who care win (except those who want source).
    AFAICS, intel doesn’t want to put down the manpower to get things done on time.

  5. I think the concern is that the “Intel Insider” may be able to make any unique identifiers present in the PC globally routable (at least to participating entities) outside the user’s control.
    Unique identifiers may include the MAC addresses mentioned, Processor serial numbers, HDCP Key Selection Vector, DTCP device ID, or the uuid used to identify hard-drives.
    Off-topic aside: not all devices in the wild have unique MAC addresses, which can cause problems.

  6. Luis Felipe says:

    Hey, and do you have any news on progress for the Arrandale cards? They still do not have external monitor support working on linux, and they are available on a bunch of already released notebooks out there.

  7. anon says:

    The network card MAC address is easily changed via software, and perhaps for some people even more easily changed by simply using a USB network adapter.

  8. Ken Shumway says:

    I’m building a new system and considering using the core i7 2600K with an Intel DH67GD motherboard. I want to us Ubuntu Linux for my operating system. What is the status now for Sandy Bridge processors and Linux drivers? It’s been over 4 months since any news has come out on this subject.

  9. Anon says:

    Gary C – libdrm provides core library routines for the X Window System to directly interface with video hardware using the Linux kernel’s Direct Rendering Modules.
    it has nothing to do with digital rights managment…

  10. guillem says:

    I like to buy intel products for it’s linux support but with sanybridge I feel a bit neglected by intel.
    Please, people at intel, make us happy with your products and linux

  11. Sebastian says:

    Is there a Linux distribution that works with Sandy Bridge based boards in the meantime? Ubuntu 11.04 doesn’t support 3D on the Intel HD Graphics 3000 chip and has only poor 2D performance.

  12. Dan Danecker says:

    I have installed ubuntu 11.04 and it has been anything but an absolute Joy. The higest resolution i can get from my DH61AG and 2300T processor is 1024×768.
    Sherlock Systems Inc. Intel Premier Provider

  13. pirast says:

    hey you guys. thanks for your work! sadly, the sandybridge experience on linux is not yet what it is supposed to be for me.
    i have a vostro 3450, and compared to windows, the fan is turned on much more often (maybe 4 times as often) and just blows out cool air. reproduced with fedora and ubuntu, both latest versions. users with other laptops based on sandy bridge seem to have similar problems..
    if you could please have a look at that issue? https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=736063