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Innovation

Even Linus Torvalds sometimes has PC problems

Linux creator Linus Torvalds can't merge kernel code fast enough because of a particular hardware problem.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on
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For most people, hardware problems and slow deliveries are annoying. But if you're the person behind the operating system that underpins much of the cloud, Android and IoT, your problems could easily become a big issue for lots of other people too.

Linux creator Linus Torvalds told a kernel contributor on Sunday that he's doing merges "very slowly" from one of his laptops as he waits for "new ECC memory DIMMS to arrive".

ECC refers to "Error-correcting code" memory that's designed to prevent certain styles of attacks. 

Also: How to run websites as apps with ease in Linux

As for Torvalds' current obstacles to merging code for Linux kernel version 6.1, a kernel bug – which is the usual suspect – wasn't the cause. 

"It was literally a DIMM going bad in my machine randomly after 2.5 years of it being perfectly stable. Go figure. Verified first by booting an old kernel, and then with memtest86+ overnight," he explains in a Linux kernel developer mailing list spotted by The Register.

"My new memory is "out for delivery", so hopefully I'll be back up to full speed by this evening, but I'll probably leave memtest86+ for another overnight with the new DIMMs just because this wasn't the greatest experience ever. A fair amount of wasted time blaming all the wrong things, because _obviously_ it wasn't my hardware suddenly going bad," he wrote. 

In early 2020, during the first wave of pandemic restrictions, Torvalds switched his main 'frankenbox' PC from one with an i9-9900k to one equipped with a monster 32-core AMD Threadripper 3970x-based processor. It was, as he said then, the first time in 15 years that his desktop wasn't Intel-based. As a consequence of moving off Intel, his 'allmodconfig' test builds accelerated by a factor of three.

Torvalds clarified that his system is "all set up for ECC", except he built it during the first COVID-19 restrictions when there "wasn't any ECC memory available at any sane prices." 

"And then I never got around to fixing it, until I had to detect errors the hard way. I absolutely *detest* the crazy industry politics and bad vendors that have made ECC memory so 'special'."

Torvalds last year took a swipe at Intel for its ECC memory policies. "Intel has been detrimental to the whole industry and to users because of their bad and misguided policies wrt [with regards to] ECC. Seriously," he wrote.  

Torvalds has also been using an Apple M1 silicon laptop for some development work, thanks to the Asahi Linux project, which has been working on bringnig the Arch Linux distro to Apple's M1 architecture. 

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