Closed-Source vs Open-Source Drivers

Discussion in 'NZ Computing' started by Lawrence D'Oliveiro, May 4, 2009.

  1. I've come across some interesting issues with sound support on my two
    Shuttles that I think illustrate an important difference between the closed-
    source and open-source approaches to driver development.

    Vendors offer quite a range of different sound hardware, but this is based
    around a smaller number of different actual underlying chipsets. For closed-
    source Windows, each vendor will offer their own driver that you have to
    download and install; even if two different pieces of hardware are built on
    the same chipset, you'd be ill-advised to try the driver for one with the
    other. Each vendor will provide only the options they think you will need to
    control, and no more.

    In the open-source approach, the developers see the commonality between the
    chipsets, and create one common driver for that chipset, with configurable
    options to tweak its behaviour for different vendors' implementations.

    In my older Shuttle, which has an "Intel Corporation 82801EB/ER (ICH5/ICH5R)
    AC'97 Audio Controller", I had no problems getting multichannel sound,
    except that the centre and subwoofer channels were swapped. It took me some
    digging around to discover that this is a known quirk with some hardware
    implementations built on this chipset, and the ALSA driver offers a "Swap
    Center/LFE" option (visible in the alsamixer utility) to fix this.

    In my newer Shuttle, which has a "VIA Technologies Inc. VT1720/24
    [Envy24PT/HT] PCI Multi-Channel Audio Controller", things were not so
    straightforward. I could get two-channel stereo sound, but no more than
    that. It was only recently that I discovered
    that the relevant kernel module (snd-ice1724) has a "model" parameter, which
    lets you tell it which chipset implementation you've got (in my case,
    "model=sn25p" did the trick). So now I finally have surround sound on both
    Shuttles. And sound input works too!

    So which approach is better? The open-source approach is certainly more
    scalable; try to install, say, similar cards from different vendors in the
    same machine, and there's a good chance the Windows drivers will conflict,
    whereas the Linux ones won't. The Windows approach may seem more appealing
    in the short term, but you will hit its shortcomings sooner or later. Like
    when the vendor drops support for your still perfectly good piece of
    hardware, and you find that, after an OS upgrade, you will never get it
    working again.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go look at my Eee. The Ubuntu Jaunty
    upgrade added something called PulseAudio, which I need to figure out to get
    the sound working again...
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, May 4, 2009
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  2. Lawrence D'Oliveiro

    Richard Guest

    A good idea at the time, but inevitably you end up with an overprices
    aluminium case with poor acoustic properties and a dead motherboard that
    you can't replace for less then the cost of a whole new machine after a
    couple of years.
    Richard, May 4, 2009
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  3. They're good-quality machines. The older one is coming up to 5 years old.
    They have a reputation for good-quality power supplies. I bought the first
    one back when I lived in a cramped flat with limited space. And they're easy
    on the eyes, too--important to a guy who used Macs for many years. :)
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, May 5, 2009
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