When Linux goes bad: the e1000e Ethernet bug

I know some people think I only say wonderful things about Linux and bad things about Windows. Wrong. I call them like I see them. Most of the time, while wearing my operating system umpire's cap, I see Linux making the right hits... Most of the time. Sometimes, though, Linux strikes out and it surely has with the recent e1000e Ethernet bug.

This bug is found only in the pre-release version of the 2.6.27 Linux kernel. If you're using a conventional Linux, you don't have to worry about it.

But, if you're living on the bleeding edge of technology and want a run a beta Linux that's using the 2.6.27 kernel, do not, do not run until you're sure your machine doesn't use the Intel ICH8 and ICH9 chipsets, with the 82566 and 82567 Ethernet chipsets. If you do, you're very likely to fry your Ethernet's firmware and you can say bye-bye to your network connection.

Don't have the foggiest idea what your Ethernet chipset is? In that case, open up a shell window and run the following command:

lspci | grep 8256[67]

If you can get any result, your system is vulnerable. Do not, unless you don't mind toasting your Ethernet, run any version of Linux with the currently existing version of the pre-release 2.6.27 kernel. If all you get is the return of your shell prompt, then you're good to go.

Now, it's possible that if you're using another chipset with the e1000e driver that they might get blasted. I'm not familiar with any reports of this happening, but then no one is exactly sure how this problem is occurring in the first place. If you want to be completely safe, check to see if you're using the e1000e driver by once more opening a shell interface and run this command:

/sbin/lsmod | grep e1000e

If you get no result, you're fine. Your system is not using this driver. If you do get a result, well, I, for one, wouldn't chance running my PC until we're all clear on what's happening here. Or, better still, the problem is fixed and I don't need to worry about it anymore.

That said, it's really only people like me who are always working with the newest and not quite ready for the big leagues Linuxes that need to be concerned. There are no shipping Linuxes with this bug; there are only alpha and beta builds.

To be exact, the major test builds to be worried about are the Mandriva Linux 2009 pre-releases; Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 Beta 1 and openSUSE 11 Beta 1; Fedora 10 release candidates; Gentoo Linux; and Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex.

Some people are claiming that you can fix the problem by using Intel's low-level IABUTIL.EXE. Fail!

What will happen is that you'll make an already losing situation even worse. Chris Jones, a Canonical system administrator, was one of the first to discover, the hard way, that this logical move actually only leads to the Ethernet hardware vanishing entirely from the system as far as his PC's bus and BIOS was concerned. In other words, you really don't want to call there.

The moral of the story is that there are no perfect operating systems and just because Linux usually works great, doesn't mean that it always leaves the operating system ballpark with a win.

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