February 20, 2013

Linux 3.8: Hello 2013, Goodbye 386 Chips

After a few days' delay, Linux creator Linus Torvalds on Monday released version 3.8 of the Linux kernel, the first new update to arrive in 2013.

“The release got delayed a couple of days because I was waiting for confirmation of a small patch, but hey, we could also say that it was all intentional, and that this is the special 'Presidents' Day Release',” Torvalds wrote in the announcement email. “It sounds more planned that way, no?”

TuxThough it bears the nickname “Unicycling Gorilla,” Linux 3.8 brings a number of improvements that are far from frivolous. The removal of support for Intel 386 chips is surely among the most striking of those, but numerous others are notable as well and promise significant benefits for Linux users.

Ready for a rundown? Here's a brief look at some of the highlights of Linux 3.8.

1. So Long, 386

While it seems unlikely that many will shed a tear over this change, Linux 3.8 does indeed remove support for the Intel 386 processor, as was widely reported late last year when the decision was made. What that means? Just that it can't be run on very, very old PCs.

“This tree removes ancient-386-CPUs support and thus zaps quite a bit of complexity... which has plagued us with extra work whenever we wanted to change SMP primitives, for years,” wrote developer Ingo Molnar in the change submission in December. “Unfortunately there's a nostalgic cost: your old original 386 DX33 system from early 1991 won't be able to boot modern Linux kernels anymore. Sniff.”

Fans of older hardware can rest assured, however, that the 486 chip is still supported.

2. A New File System for SSDs

An interesting addition in Linux 3.8, meanwhile, is “F2FS,” an experimental new file system contributed by Samsung that's optimized for flash memory storage devices. While Linux already has several file systems designed for flash devices — including LogFS, JFFS2 and UBIFS — they aren't generally designed for non-native flash devices such as many commonly used solid-state drives (SSDs). F2FS, by contrast, targets SSDs specifically, and is optimized for the way they work. Samsung developer Jaegeuk Kim explained the differences in more detail in a list posting last fall.

3. Btrfs and Ext4 Refinements

Also from the file-system department are improvements in both the Btrfs and Ext4 file systems. In Btrfs, for instance, a new, explicit device replacement operation considerably speeds up the process of removing an old disk and adding a new one. Ext4, meanwhile, has gained the ability to store very small files in the unused inode space, making reading such files much faster while also saving disk space, according to the changelog on Kernel Newbies.

These are just a few of the many changes on the way to Linux users through this new kernel update. For a more complete look, check out Kernel Newbies or the multipart report on The H.

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