Linux Hardware Compatibility – getting started with off the shelf hardware.



[Print This] By mjhammel ~ December 18th, 2008. Filed under: Fedora, Hardware, Linux, MythTV, Open Source, Video, X11.

Finding off the shelf supported hardware is a tough task for Linux.  The problem with such lists is that they often include hardware that you can no longer purchase from retails outlets.  So it’s easier to get a list of what the outlets have available and then search the list rather than get the list and take it with you to the store.

The other problems is that there isn’t really just a single list.  You generally have to try different web sites for different types of hardware.  Worse, hardware like sound cards and video cards are often listed by what chipset they support and not by model name of the cards currently on the market (though this isn’t so bad with TV tuners).  And the boxes at the store seldom list the chipset (at least not in a way that makes it easy to match what you know to be supported).

With that said, Linux.com publised an article on finding compatible hardware which has links to a number of different hardware-related lists.

Firewire is reported to work but I’ve never tried it.  SD and other multimedia cards (like those in your camera) are supported fairly well in the latest versions of the kernel.  The Fedora 9 distribution on my laptop supports the multifunction card reader without any special configuration.  I don’t do much with audio so can’t help much there other than to say that my limited requirements are always met with out of the box support.  The bigger problem with audio is the frameworks being developed to provide audio services on top of the drivers.  These things (such as PulseAudio) are nice ideas that are still in their infancy and can get in my way of doing the simple things.  But that’s true of many desktop solutions that try to offer generalized features and security to a guy who knows plenty about what he’s doing and doesn’t want to be spoon-fed like grandma.  But I digress.  This is about hardware, not grumpy old men.

USB up to 2.0 is supported out of the box and should be no problem for any Linux users.  External USB hard drives generally work but I have to say the only one of these that works completely without error has been the Western Digital MyBook 500GB USB drive.  I have 4 of these now and none has failed.  I also have a MyBook 1TB that is working flawlessly.  I’ve had 3 Maxtor’s that died very quickly and the FreeAgent simply doesn’t work.  I don’t think the problem here is the USB support.  I think the drives those brands of drives are generally flakey.  Stick with the MyBook.

I also have a USB scanner, an Epson Perfection 1260 Photo which uses the SANE drivers.  This model is old and I can’t say how well modern scanners are being supported since many of them are getting rolled into the all-in-one printers, though it appears that these all-in-one printers are not well supported under Linux.  Stick with the printers that are just printers, not fax machines and scanners too.

For printers, I go to LinuxPrinting.org (which is now under the LinuxFoundation web site).  At least with printers you search by printer model names instead of generic chipsets.  And printer support is extremely good from both the open source arena as well as many printer manufacturers.  And CUPS makes distributed printing nearly painless.

Support for wifi is a big topic on the Linux forums I frequent.  Fortunately, out of the box support is getting better.  Some of the places you can go for help include the MadWifi project, Jean Tourrilhes list, and the Intel Wireless site.

Off the shelf video card support is a pain in the neck.  As I mentioned previously, the problem is that open source drivers are based on video chipsets but off the shelf models are listed by model name and seldom provide the chipset information you need.  Worse, video card model updates are released so frequently you can hardly keep up with knowing if the new model has the same support as the previous one and will work with the same drivers.  It’s a mess, and has been since I started in Linux in the early 1990′s.

The good news is that 2D support is a no-brainer.  Any card will work and work quite well.  Video support is good in most cards as well with open source drivers.  3D support may be good, but some cards are better than others.  Since I don’t use 3D (don’t play games) I can’t say what cards would be best in that arena.

NVidia has their own drivers while X.org provides open source drivers for the same cards.  I used the former for a long time until an update earlier this year started causing my cards to lock up the window manager (but just the window manager for some odd reason, and it happened with all window managers under multiple desktops – GNOME, KDE, XFce, etc.).  I haven’t been able to use them since.  The open source drivers didn’t support dual monitors very well (compared to the way they were supported under NVidia’s drivers).

I switched to an ATI Radeon 7000/VE at work using open source drivers which works well with dual monitors but has a slight flicker problem on one screen when I move windows around.  It also doesn’t play nicely with the paint tools under GIMP (leaves a trail of debris when you move around an image window).  ATI has their own drivers as well but I haven’t tried them yet.

The X.org drivers page would be a good place to start when looking for drivers.  NVidia’s web site has downloadable drivers too.  Note that when you upgrade your kernel you usually have to rebuild NVidia’s drivers though that process is pretty painless.  It’s just annoying that you have to do it every time you get a kernel upgrade from your distribution.

Intel’s driver support, which is found primarily on systems with integrated video and not in (to my knowledge) video cards, is fairly good.  I have an Intel 915GM video chipset in my laptop and it supports dual monitors and TV out just fine, including support for XRandR.  I’m able to use the laptop monitor as a MythTV display while working on an external LCD.  I also use the laptop as a portable MythTV client and use the TV out to connect to my big screen TVs to watch recorded shows.

Analog TV Receivers are fairly well supported in Linux, though support for Digital TV receivers is still evolving.
I think the best bet here is likely to be the Hauppauge HVR 1600.  It’s available off the shelf and appears to be supported by Hauppauge under Linux, or so they say.  I haven’t got one yet, but it’s on my list for early next year.  See the MythTV wiki page for the Hauppauge HVR 1600 for details.

Many analog TV receivers are supported by the IVTV driver which is now available in the Linux kernel.

You can get more good information on TV tuner cards, both analog and digital, from MythTV’s wiki and from LinuxTV.org.

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