Torvalds Sees No Reason to Keep i486 Support in the Linux Kernel

Torvalds Sees No Reason to Keep i486 Support in the Linux Kernel

Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, suggested it is probably time for Intel i486 CPUs support to be dropped from the Linux kernel.

Hardware evolution is a constant process that necessitates significant efforts from software developers who supply software support.

Many Linux users are probably unaware of the effort made by Linux kernel developers to provide broad hardware support for nearly every architecture and CPU you can think of. After all, the Linux kernel is the layer that allows the software to communicate with the underlying hardware.

However, some hardware components become so obsolete over time that they almost belong in the category of museum exhibits rather than being used by anyone. Nowadays, this is relevant to i486 CPUs.

Intel i486 CPU
Image credit: Wikimedia

The i486 microprocessor was created by Intel in 1989, 33 years ago, as a successor to the i386. And, believe it or not, these CPUs continue to have full Linux kernel support. But it looks like that may soon change.

Linus Torvalds, the Linux creator, mentioned in a message to Linux kernel developers a few days ago that perhaps the time has come to drop i486 kernel support.

We got rid of i386 support back in 2012. Maybe it’s time to get rid of i486 support in 2022?

So I really don’t think i486 class hardware is relevant anymore. Yes, I’m sure it exists (Maciej being an example), but from a kernel development standpoint, I don’t think they are really relevant.

At some point, people have them as museum pieces. They might as well run museum kernels.

Linus Torvalds

We cannot disagree with this point of view. Indeed, it is now nearly impossible to find a computer that uses an i486 processor for purposes other than “History of Computing.” Although, if I went around in my parent’s basement, I’m sure I’d find two of these PCs from my childhood.

To provide a clearer example for our younger readers, i486 CPUs were at their peak during Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT 4.0 times. That was quite some time ago.

In conclusion, things appear to be as follows. The latest version of the Linux kernel 6.0 still fully supports i486 CPUs. So, this is almost probably going to continue in version 6.1.

However, based on Linus Torvalds’ comment, it is unclear whether Linux kernel 6.2 will be the first to drop support for i486.

Bobby Borisov
Bobby Borisov

Bobby is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, Bobby has worked as a Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

2 Comments

  1. What’s the big deal? Linux has done well for a grad school project; but it never has supported the breadth of processors that *BSD has. Let it pander to the users, while *BSD continues to be the thought leader in supporting multiple platforms.

  2. “oh no! the horror! I will have to upgrade my 50 year old computer!!?? this is unacceptable!” and I am sure someone will unironically think that exact thing. But seriously, friends, at one point, it’s time to move on. maybe the fabled Year Of the Linux Desktop would arrive if we stopped pandering to literal fossils and museum pieces and start working on (and with) modern hardware.
    Some distros can just choose to not ship the new kernel that drops support for old things and just be labeled as such. but 99.9% of users (no exaggeration) will not care. yes, it’s time to clean up the kernel.

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