Linux Kernel 4.7 Offers New Support for Virtual Devices, Drivers, and More


So, Linux kernel 4.7 is here. The release happened July 24, just over 10 weeks after the release of 4.6 and two weeks after the final release candidate (4.7-rc7). This release cycle was slightly longer than usual due to Torvalds traveling commitments.

That said, the last sprint was a pretty leisurely one, something Torvalds attributes to it being “summer in the northern hemisphere.” However, there were some “network drivers that got a bit more loving” and several “Intel Kabylake fixes” in the last batch of patches.

Maybe the biggest news, at least for end users, is that 4.7 includes drivers for the Polaris line of AMD GPUs. This is quite big because at least some of the models in the Polaris line of cards are still not available at the moment of writing. This also means that Linux is now at a stage where it’s getting video card AMD drivers before the hardware is on sale. Nvidia should probably take note.

That said, Nouveau, the project that provides free drivers for Nvidia GPUs, is chugging along nicely and now supports yet another video card, in this case, the GM108. They have also improved the power sensor support for cards across the board. As for the third graphic card manufacturer, aka Intel, the i915 drivers now support color manager.

In other news, the USB/IP subsystem has started supporting virtual devices. Introduced in kernel 3.17, USB/IP is already an interesting little project in itself. It allows you to access USB devices over the network, letting you, for example, peruse images from a webcam, or scan from a scanner on a remote server as if it were locally connected. The only limitation up until kernel 4.6 was the devices had to be real, physical machines.

The support for virtual devices in 4.7 makes USB/IP even more useful, especially for developers: Now they can access emulated smartphones and other emulated devices on virtual machines, or from elsewhere in the network, and run tests on them as if they were running on their personal machine.

Other changes to the kernel include…

  • Another kernel, another increase in the number of supported ARM chips. In this new batch, we have support for first-generation Kindle Fires; the Exynos 3250 chip, which is used in Samsung’s Galaxy Gear line of smartwatches; and the Orange Pi single board computer, to name but three.

  • Speaking of ARM, 4.7 also comes with hibernate and suspend for ARM64 architectures.

  • If you’re into gaming on Linux, you’ll be thrilled to know that 4.7 comes with full support for the Microsoft Xbox One Elite Controller, and high-end gaming keyboards put out by Corsair. Sure, those toys are pricey, but, man, are they sexy.

  • In the networking department, 4.7 now supports Intel’s 8265 Bluetooth device and has improved support for Broadcom’s BCM2E71 chip.

  • An interesting new security feature included into 4.7 is the LoadPin module. This module, once activated, forces the kernel to load the files it needs (modules, firmware, and so on) all from one single filesystem. Assuming that said filesystem is itself immutable — like what you would find on read-only optical disk or on a dm-verity-enabled device — this allows to create a secure read-only system without the need to individually sign every file.

For more information, read the official announcement of the release, or you can also visit Phoronix where they have more on the most significant changes that made their way into 4.7.