Drivers and device support

Given Linux’ lower popularity and open nature, driver support for specialised devices sometimes might be lackluster as manufacturers simply do not want to support it. This of course isn’t a problem if you buy a new device that comes with Linux preinstalled. However, if you already own hardware, you’re better of checking compatibility with a live system on your USB stick before fully commiting to avoid unnecessary frustration. It would be the same if you’d decide to go for Apple products – support ain’t guaranteed, and sometimes you can’t get around changing your gear for well supported alternatives.

Things that basically always work are for example USB sticks, external hard drives as well as network printers. These devices are widely standardized and should always be detected – in case of printers many even make the case of superior support in Linux because most of them will automatically be detected as soon as they’re in your network and added to the options of available printers. USB-connected printers however might be more troublesome, here again it’s hit’n’miss.
Devices that are onboard – meaning they’re on your motherboard, like network adapter or sound card – also almost always work unless you buy devices that came out yesterday. Same goes for interface cards that offer f.e. additional USB ports. Sound cards also usually work given they’re using similar chips, however software suites that sometimes come with them are often only available on Windows and/or Mac.

Devices that usually work are network adapters and wifi cards. Especially devices that aren’t high-end but proven technology get detected as developers and powerusers had enough time providing their own drivers in case the manufacturer was too lazy providing them themselves. I’m not too sure how the driver support for webcams are – it’s best to search for the device name + Linux support, often someone else already tried it before you. Also, if you’re using specific classes of devices like for example diving computers, look these up in particular. In case of diving there’s a community around the free app “Subsurface” caring for support of this specialised tech with an impressive list of supported computers.

Unfortunately, there are also those devices that rarely work or need some hands-on help with experimental drivers. Capture cards and streaming gear in general is a good example for this, their driver support also usually comes from within the Linux community instead of the manufacturers. If there’s no option directly from Linux shops (like Slimbooks HDMI capture device) it’s again time to look it up on the internet.

Bad Nvidia graphics drivers

However, the biggest problem for most people are the atrocious drivers offered by Nvidia. They’re prone to bugs especially at the time of installing and can cause problems in places you wouldn’t expect them. For this very reason Pop!_OS offers an install image with Nvidia drivers preinstalled and Zorin OS got an extra option during boot. If you got a Nvidia GPU in your computer and are okay with either of those distros, do yourself a favour and use those. It might save you a lot of headache.
If you own a slightly older computer and do not want to play video games you shouldn’t have to meddle with them at all. By default Linux uses a driver called “nouveau” for Nvidia cards. It might not support the newest features, but it is way more stable and trustworthy and may also save you from a lot of trouble.

Fortunately, with AMD as well as Intel, you shouldn’t run into these kind of problems. In case you’re working with OpenCL or ROCm professionally you might need to install either the “Pro” drivers or ROCm stack from AMD. Definitely choose a distribution aimed at professional creators like Pop!_OS if you wish to work with such tools.

Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel, famously showing Nvidia the middle finger (Source: Aalto University)
Regain Privacy – Your Computer [Linux Megaguide]
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