📅 February 24, 2017
Linux kernel 4.10.0 (stable version) was released a few days ago while VirtualBox 5.1.14 was released about a month ago. I have been using both, and they have been performing well.
Kernel 4.10.0 touts improved NVIDIA graphics support, but my experience was lackluster with SLI. On the other hand, 4.10.0 runs great with existing Linux systems using non-SLI graphics.
VirtualBox 5.1.14 and 4.10.0
“Does kernel 4.10.0 work in VirtualBox 5.1.14?”
Actually, no. Not well, at least. Linux Mint 18.1 MATE with kernel 4.8.15 runs perfectly in VirtualBox 5.1.14, so I upgraded its kernel to 4.10.0 to see how it would perform.
The 4.10.0 installation went smoothly and the virtual machine booted fine. However, the VirtualBox guest additions refused to install no matter what tricks I tried. I kept seeing the “Failed to setup service vboxadd” error before the guest installation quit.
I installed the build-essentials to make sure that all of the necessary tools were present, but no success. The VM was limited to the defaults, and without the guest additions, a VirtualBox VM is pretty much useless for me.
Finally, I uninstalled 4.10.0 using Synaptic, ran sudo update-grub to update the changes, and rebooted. The guest additions installed fine, and the VM worked perfectly again with kernel 4.8.15.
This happens quite often with VirtualBox and the latest Linux kernels, and it is usually resolved with the next release of VirtualBox that has improved kernel support.
For now, I would wait before upgrading VirtualBox Linux installations to 4.10.0. Of course, I only tested one distribution that I use often. Other distributions might see better results.
“Does 4.10.0 run on real hardware?”
Yes, and I encountered no problems upgrading Linux Mint 18.1 to kernel 4.10.0. Everything runs as well as it did before.
What About SLI?
One of the improvements offered by kernel 4.10.0 is better graphics card support. Notably the NVIDIA cards.
Linux has never worked with SLI — at least not for me. No Linux LiveCD/LiveUSB or any kind of Linux has ever booted with SLI enabled, so I had to test 4.10.0 on an NVIDIA SLI system with two 980Ti graphics cards.
“Did Linux install and boot to a usable system with kernel 4.10.0?”
Absolutely no changes. Linux Mint 18.1 with kernel 4.10.0 refuses to work.
Installation was the first hurdle, so here is what I did:
- Switched to integrated graphics in BIOS (IGFX). Linux would install from a LiveUSB when SLI was disabled and the integrated graphics enabled.
- After Linux Mint 18.1 installation, which installed kernel 4.4.0-15-generic, the system booted and ran fine using integrated graphics.
- Switching to SLI in BIOS (Choosing the PCIe graphics slot) and rebooting caused the system to hang at a blinking cursor. No Boot.
- Switched back to integrated graphics (IGFX) and Linux booted again to a usable system.
- Installed kernel 4.10.0. Updated GRUB. Rebooted to BIOS.
- Switch graphics back to PCIe graphics. This enables the graphics cards and SLI.
- Reboot. Linux again hung at the blinking cursor while showing a messy display with green bars. The cards are good and run perfectly with Windows 7, so this is a Linux driver issue.
There are probably boot settings to adjust, but I need a system technique that works out of the box so I can show others — mainly computer newbies — how to use Linux without burdening them with technical installation hassles.
Linux and SLI have never worked well together, and, for me, there are no improvements yet.
This does not mean that kernel 4.10.0 is a bad release. There are many improvements and fixes (better filesystem support, 802.11ai, and more) that make this a worthwhile upgrade. On non-SLI systems, I have been testing 4.10.0, and it runs perfectly.
If you enjoy testing the latest and greatest kernels, then 4.10.0 is worth a try. Especially if you have a recent graphics card from NVIDIA.
However, be aware of potential SLI and Linux incompatibility as well as VirtualBox incompatibility when installing guest additions. As for VirtualBox, 4.10.0 is new, so it might take another VirtualBox release before VirtualBox catches up to support it.
The good news about Linux is that if you do not like a kernel or if it fails to perform as expected, you can always uninstall and roll back to a previous, working kernel without losing your system.