A new version of the Linux kernel has arrived. Like most updates, version 5.19 doesn’t contain one headline-grabbing feature. Instead, it’s filled with various odds-and-ends improvements that make Linux more performant across hardware both new and old.
Maybe 5.19 will be a release that surprises you. But if you don’t want to be surprised, here’s some of what to expect.
Linux runs on various ARM devices, but the experience pales in comparison to how well Linux runs on Intel devices. While there remains a big gap between the two, progress continues. ARM support has reached a level where Linus Torvalds tested and released this version of the kernel using an ARM laptop, an Apple M2 MacBook Air. Special thanks go to the Asahi team, which has been working to get Linux up and running on Apple Silicon.
In semi-related Apple M1 news, drivers for the Apple M1 NVMe controller and Apple eFuse have merged into the kernel.
2. Intel Overheating and Battery Drain Fixes
Some laptops with Intel CPUs have experienced faster than expected battery drain when suspended. Owners often find themselves surprised with an overheating laptop, especially when pulling the device out of a bag. The latest kernel contains fixes to address these issues for Intel Skylake (launched in 2015) through Comet Lake CPUs (launched in 2019). Now laptops should keep cool and sleep for longer.
There is also Linux idle driver support for Intel Alder Lake CPUs. The Intel p-state driver receives quite a few improvements as well. The p-state driver concerns optimization of power consumption and specifically relates to the optimization of voltage and CPU frequency.
That’s not all for Intel-related news. Raptor and Alder Lake CPUs gain support for Running Average Power Limiting (RAPL). This is a way to limit max average power, putting less strain on a computer’s components and allowing the system to run cooler.
3. LoongArch CPU Architecture Support
Linux 5.19 is closer to running on devices utilizing LoongArch CPU architecture. The code comes from the Chinese company Loongson, known for its MIPS64-based systems. You could describe LoongArch as being MIPS64 and RISC-V. Some LoongArch kernel code reuses MIPS code.
But not too fast. Linux cannot yet run on actual LoongArch hardware, since there is driver code that hasn’t merged in time for this release.
4. Graphical Improvements
There are graphical improvements to go around, regardless of your hardware. The primary one concerns changes to the Direct Rendering Manager subsystem, which benefit AMD GPUs extensively while also improving the experience on Intel hardware and some ARM GPU chips as well. This involved nearly half a million lines of code.
5. Numerous Networking Additions
Linux kernel 5.19 adds BIG TCP support, which allows for larger TSO/GRO packet sizes for IPv6 traffic. Network speeds can now reach 400Gbit/s. This will be of help to people managing data centers and other cloud-based infrastructure, those whose job it is to manage substantial volumes of networking traffic. The rest of us can get a start by learning what TCP stands for and what it does.
This release also adds a userspace component for managing MultiPath TCP (MPTCP). If you don’t work in system administration, this won’t impact you directly (aside from websites possibly loading more quickly).
Network drivers have also received improvements. Consider Qualcomm’s ATH11K driver, which has gained wake-on-LAN support. Then there is Realtek’s RTW89 wireless driver that now supports Realtek 8852ce 5GHz devices. Support has also landed for MediaTekT700 modems and Renesas RZ/V2M.
There is also a new driver for pureLiFi. LiFi is a light-based networking technology where data transmits using a stream of light that a device converts into an electronic signal and then back into data. This is a technology that won’t impact most of us for the time being, but you can file it under “cool.”
If you work on IoT devices, you may be pleased to know that Silicon Labs’ WFX Wi-Fi low-power IoT receives now have a driver in the kernel.
6. Newly-Enabled Accessories
The Keychron’s wireless mechanical keyboard now has working function keys. And the Linux kernel now supports button mapping and native scrolling on the Lenovo ThinkPad TrackPoint II keyboard, alongside also allowing owners to use the middle button. So if you bought either of these keyboards before switching to Linux only to find they don’t work as well, it will soon be okay to plug them back in once 5.19 arrives in your distro.
While not quite an accessory, the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 TrackPoint, also known as the mouse nub that appears in the middle of some keyboards, has received some attention. The Google Whiskers Touchpad also works under version 5.19.
The Wacom driver can now handle pens with three buttons. It also supports pen and touch time stamps. Alternatively, if you use Huion tablets and pens, the UC-Logic support now includes support for more of these devices.
7. Better Compression
The kernel now supports zstd compressed firmware. zstd is a lossless data compression algorithm originally developed at Facebook. That’s right. We’ve reached a point where companies of all kinds are invested in making the Linux kernel better. Compression is a vital component in reducing download speeds and wait times.
Is It Time to Install Linux Kernel 5.19?
While you can install kernel 5.19 directly, the better approach is to wait for the latest version to arrive as a system update to your distro. This version of the kernel will be better tested and configured to be ready to go.
Some distros do provide new kernels relatively quickly, like Fedora, and rolling-release distros like Arch Linux. Others tend to save new kernels for the next major release of the distro, as is the case with Ubuntu. But if your computer and your peripherals already work, then waiting isn’t so hard, if you even notice at all.