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Old 05-15-2017, 07:49 AM   #1
Novatian
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Update Linux Firmware and Kernel?


I use Mint 18.1 on a desktop by Lenovo, about 5 years old. I can update my Linux Firmware and Kernel, but have left those ones aside from updates for about six moths now, not since I installed have I updated them. What might be a problem or advantage coming from updating them?
 
Old 05-15-2017, 09:45 AM   #2
hazel
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Advantage: better security. You might have heard of "dirty cow", a security hole in the kernel that has since been patched. If you never update your kernel, you won't profit from such patches.

Disadvantage: the kernel, and any firmware that you actually use, are critical components of your system. There is the risk of an update breaking something. If you use the Mint update manager rather than synaptic, you will be warned off such updates. The problem, as I see it, is that they never seem to tell you, "OK, it's safe to do it now."
 
Old 05-15-2017, 09:46 AM   #3
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What kernel is Mint 18.1 using?
uname -a on console.
 
Old 05-15-2017, 10:08 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Keruskerfuerst View Post
What kernel is Mint 18.1 using?
uname -a on console.
# uname -a
Linux bren-ThinkCentre-M92p 4.4.0-21-generic #37-Ubuntu SMP Mon Apr 18 18:33:37 UTC 2016 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux
 
Old 05-15-2017, 10:08 AM   #5
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Also, generally speaking, "firmware" refers to software that is built-in to, say, the motherboard, versus software that is part of an operating system such as Linux.

You should keep the board's firmware, and the Linux kernel, and all of the other software in the surrounding ecosystem, up-to-date at all times.
 
Old 05-15-2017, 10:18 AM   #6
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As Hazel said, better security. I think it's a good idea to try to be as up to date as possible for your kernel line (in your case 4.4). For example, I'm now running Mint 18.1 with kernel 4.8.0-49 - it works fine for me. You should at least try to install the latest 4.4 version.

You can always revert using the Grub menu if it doesn't work out (for example, I've had a couple of crashes using the 4.10 line, so just in case it is the kernel to blame, I've reverted to 4.8 in the meantime).
 
Old 05-15-2017, 10:49 AM   #7
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It's actually a good idea when updating the kernel to keep a copy of the old one with a name suffix, so that you can use grub's edit facility to boot it in case the new one doesn't work.

But that doesn't answer my beef that Mint always warns you about the danger of updating essential software but never gives you the all-clear to do it safely. I had Mint for a while on a laptop, and this bothered me so much that I ended up by getting rid of it. I simply couldn't bring myself to ignore those warnings, even though I had done similar updates on Debian many times without any problems. What's a newbie supposed to think when getting warnings like these?
 
Old 05-15-2017, 11:17 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hazel View Post
It's actually a good idea when updating the kernel to keep a copy of the old one with a name suffix, so that you can use grub's edit facility to boot it in case the new one doesn't work.

But that doesn't answer my beef that Mint always warns you about the danger of updating essential software but never gives you the all-clear to do it safely. I had Mint for a while on a laptop, and this bothered me so much that I ended up by getting rid of it. I simply couldn't bring myself to ignore those warnings, even though I had done similar updates on Debian many times without any problems. What's a newbie supposed to think when getting warnings like these?
I just ignore the warnings. But you're right, it can be a bit confusing for a newbie. I think Mint takes the approach that it is impossible to guarantee that a kernel upgrade will be safe given that it may be dependent on the user's hardware. I would have thought though that all kernel updates in the same line should be deemed safe enough, only major x.y version upgrades, e.g. 4.4->4.8, warranting a warning.

Mint keeps all previous kernels unless you purge them, so you can just use the boot Grub menu to choose a previous kernel, no need for name suffixes and grub edit.
 
Old 05-15-2017, 02:57 PM   #9
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An advantage to using a distro is that you may have a good team behind the kernel. You may have access to security features and tweaks to improve your experience. You'd have to read almost every release note for both the mainstream kernel and the distro's kernel to make an evaluation of the changes that affect your use. All of the changes should be public reading if you want to inspect for any effect on your system.

I recommend that general users keep their system as up to date as possible. Advanced uses may already be testing changes and evaluating the updates.
 
Old 05-15-2017, 03:49 PM   #10
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But ... to repeat myself ... "the kernel" is only "the innermost layer" of ... (a great many layers of) ... "software that is of material concern to you!"

You need to keep it all "up to date," because a card-carrying sonofabeech asshole "rogue programmer who wrote(!)" this latest "bit of malware" could have targeted any layer of software that might possibly be applicable to your environment.

Always Remember: "your actual opponent is ... ... ... human!"
 
  


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