Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Holiday Gift From Conexant: an ALSA Driver For Recent Cherry Trail SOC Based Devices

Late on Monday Simon Ho of Conexant announced the release of a driver for the company's driver for CX2072X codec to the ALSA-devel mailing list. I have to add a tip of the proverbial hat to Pierre Bossart who shared the information in where I found it. According to Mr. Bossart we can expect “a follow-up machine driver soon from Intel.” The machines where sound has been a problem have Intel SST sound on the SOC which uses the Conexant codec. On those systems the "sound card" is simply not detected.

This is good news for owners of many recent tablets and notebooks running on recent Intel Atom (Cherry Trail) based SOCs. These include systems by Acer, ASUS, HP, Toshiba and probably others. It impacts Android as well as more conventional Linux distributions. Preliminary testing in the user community, though limited at this point, appears to be entirely positive.

NOTE: I'll be posting a full review of my HP x2 Detachable 10-p010nr, the latest incarnation of that company's 10” 2-in-1 device shortly. Please watch this space.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Goodbye, Debian 8.1

Goodbye, Debian 8.1 (Jessie). I tried the distro for several months because RHEL clones (Springdale Linux and CentOS, both 7.0 and 7.1) didn't like my legacy nVidia GeForce 6150 SE in this old desktop and it was a pain to fix that. The system still is good enough to do all the work I need to do and performs reasonably well. Debian seemed like a reasonable alternative. I chose to install it with LXDE as the desktop environment which is lightweight and ideal for old systems.

First, Iceweasel is not simply Firefox with the branding stripped out as is often claimed. It slows down, takes all the system resources and locks for anywhere from a few seconds to almost a minute on many websites and does this repeatedly. It did it across multiple versions. Firefox simply works without this nonsense. Of course, I can use genuine Mozilla Firefox on Debian, but only outside their package management system unless I build and maintain packages myself. Yes, other browsers offer better performance on Debian, but for some sites Firefox is my preference and sometimes I really need to test in Firefox.

Speaking of packages, their vaunted large repository would often have broken updates because of version mismatches and/or a lack of timely dependency updates. I also had to give up on Iceweasel language packs for a while because the browser was updated but the language packs were not. I had the choice of a browser with a known vulnerability that wouldn't upgrade or ripping out the language packs. Granted, I don't need browser menus in another language, but a lot of people do and there are things I wanted to test in a localized environment. I've seen this sort of really poor repository/package management in other distros, of course. I just haven't seen it much recently.

Despite the large package selection I was surprised that some very ordinary things I use regularly that are found in lots of other distros weren't in Debian. No matter what distro I use I seem to end up building packages. Debian is no different.

Then there is PulseAudio. Yes, it works. I couldn't get it to remember that I wanted line out as the default, not headphones, so I kept having to change it. Sure, that's a really minor annoyance, but it just works on most distros. User error? In this particular case quite possibly. I just couldn't be bothered to research it. I shouldn't have to spend the time to do so on something that just works in literally every other distro I've tried in recent years.

Performance was decent, but a distro designed to be lightweight can be faster on older equipment. I went back to an old favorite, Vector Linux, who have a very solid release in 7.1, and my system is faster. I'm not supporting Debian for work at the moment so there was no reason to keep it. Look, it's not a bad distro. Most of what I've described is relatively minor and entirely fixable. I don't want to tinker and I do want performance on legacy equipment. Debian 8.1 is simply not the best choice for me.