Linux Kernel 6.3 is released with some major new features

The latest Linux kernel boasts security, speed, and power improvements for Intel, AMD, ARM, and RISC-V architectures.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
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Image: Getty Images/SimonSkafar

The latest Linux kernel is out with a slew of new features -- and, for once, this release has been nice and easy.

As Linux creator Linus Torvalds wrote on the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML): "It's been a calm release this time around … so here we are, right on schedule, with the 6.3 release out and ready for your enjoyment."

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While the straightforward release is good news, Torvalds warns there could still be challenges ahead: "That doesn't mean that something nasty couldn't have been lurking all these weeks, of course, but let's just take things at face value and hope it all means that everything is fine, and it really was a nice controlled release cycle. It happens."

Calm doesn't mean boring. True, the features of this release are not as exciting as earlier ones that included Rust or Apple M1 support. But there are still some major new features in the Linux 6.3 kernel.

Speaking of Rust, everyone's favorite memory-safe language, the new kernel comes with user-mode Linux support for Rust code. 

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Miguel Ojeda, the Linux kernel developer, who's led the efforts to bring Rust to Linux, said the additions mean we're, "getting closer to a point where the first Rust modules can be upstreamed."

Other features in the Linux 6.3 kernel include support and enablement for upcoming and yet-to-be-released Intel and AMD CPUs and graphics hardware. While these updates will primarily benefit future hardware, several changes in this release directly impact today's users' day-to-day experience.

The kernel now supports AMD's automatic Indirect Branch Restricted Speculation (IBRS) feature for Spectre mitigation, providing a less performance-intensive alternative to the retpoline speculative execution. 

Yes, it's been five years now since the Spectre chip security hole opened up, and, yes, we're still fighting it today. The net result of this fix is that older AMD processors will be a bit more secure and a bit faster.  

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Linux 6.3 also includes new power management drivers for ARM and RISC-V architectures. RISC-V has gained support for accelerated string functions via the Zbb bit manipulation extension, while ARM received support for scalable matrix extension 2 instructions.

For filesystems, Linux 6.3 brings AES-SHA2-based encryption support for NFS, optimizations for EXT4 direct I/O performance, low-latency decompression for EROFS, and a faster Brtfs file-system driver. Bottom line: many file operations will be a bit more secure and faster.

For gamers, the new kernel provides a native Steam Deck controller interface in HID. It also includes compatibility for the Logitech G923 Xbox edition racing wheel and improvements to the 8BitDo Pro 2 wired game controllers. Who says you can't game on Linux? Single-board computers, such as BannaPi R3, BPI-M2 Pro, and Orange Pi R1 Plus, also benefit from updated drivers in this release. 

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There's also support for more Wi-Fi adapters and chipsets. These include: Realtek RTL8188EU Wi-Fi adapter support; Qualcomm Wi-Fi 7 wireless chipset support; and Ethernet support for NVIDIA BlueField 3 DPU. For users dealing with complex networks that have both old-school and modern networks, the new kernel can also handle multi-path TCP handling mixed flows with IPv4 and IPv6. 

If you want to work with 6.3 today, you can, but you'll need to compile the Linux kernel yourself. You can download, or Git pull the latest Linux kernel from kernel.org.

That said, some distributions, usually the rolling-release Linux distros, will pop the kernel out soon. These include Arch Linux, openSUSE Tumbleweed, and Gentoo Linux. Those initial releases are the easiest way to play with the latest Linux kernel versions. 

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