Resolve hardware conflicts with Linux, task 2.3

When managing hardware conflicts for a Linux system, you have many options. This excerpt presents various senarios, choices and assessment tools.

Task 2.3: Resolve Linux Hardware Conflicts

With Tasks 2.1 and 2.2 completed, you now have the knowledge required to identify certain types of hardware conflicts—for instance, if two devices are attempting to use a single interrupt, thus causing problems. What remains is to do something about such conflicts. Several possibilities exist: You can disable one of the offending devices, you can set jumpers on older plug-in cards to change resource use, you can adjust BIOS settings to avoid the conflict, or you can adjust Linux settings to avoid the conflict.


Two devices (a second parallel port and a sound card) are both trying to use IRQ 5 on your computer, and this is causing both devices to malfunction. You must reconfigure the system so that this conflict is avoided


Scope of Task

This task involves reviewing jumper settings, BIOS options, and Linux software configuration. As such, it's fairly wide reaching, although each individual part of the task is restricted in scope.


This task should take about half an hour to complete. Once you're familiar with hardware reconfiguration, you can perform individual parts of this task in a few minutes.


Ideally, you should have a computer with both a second parallel port and a sound card configured to use IRQ 5. In practice, though, you're unlikely to have a computer with this precise configuration, so you should simply follow the descriptions in this task and review your own hardware's capabilities and your own Linux system's software configuration. Start with your Linux system powered down. You'll need to enter the BIOS, and you may want to physically examine the hardware in your computer.


Physically examining or modifying hardware runs the risk of damaging it by accidental static discharge or other mishandling. If possible, you should use an anti-static wrist strap or take other anti-static precautions, such as regularly grounding yourself by touching a radiator while you work. Software adjustments run the risk of rendering your system unbootable if you make a mistake, so be careful not to make inappropriate changes.


To perform this task, you will review several types of settings for your hardware. If you were really fixing a problem, you would adjust one or more of these options to fix the problem. In reality, you'll probably leave these settings alone.

Adjusting Hardware Jumpers

A hardware jumper is a set of two or more metal pins that stick out of a motherboard, plug-in card, hard disk, or other device and may be shorted together by using a small cap made of metal and plastic. Figure 2.4 shows a typical jumper, shown in the open (unshorted) position. Some jumpers, such as the one shown in Figure 2.4, support only open and closed positions. Others provide three or more pins that may be shorted together in different ways to configure the device.

FIGURE 2.4 Hardware jumpers are used on old, and occasionally on new, devices to set options.

Unfortunately, I can't give you any hard-and-fast rules as to when to set jumpers in particular positions. You must consult the device's documentation to learn how to set its jumpers to achieve particular goals. (Some devices print basic documentation on the hardware itself, but most require you to read separate documentation.)

Older ISA cards used jumpers as the exclusive means of configuration. You'd use jumpers to set IRQs, I/O ports, and other options and sometimes to disable or enable particular functions of a board. Later ISA cards and PCI cards use PnP technology to enable the computer to set these features, but such cards still sometimes sport a jumper or two. Hard disks also commonly use jumpers to set master/slave status, SCSI ID number, and other features, although hard disk standards are moving toward software-driven configuration as well.

If one or both of the problem devices in this task's scenario uses jumpers, you can avoid the conflict by setting the jumpers of one device so that it uses an unused IRQ rather than the IRQ 5 that's in contention. If the device is part of a multi-function card and you don't need the function in question, you may be able to use a jumper to disable it. For instance, if you don't need the second parallel port, you may be able to disable it on the plug-in card by setting an appropriate jumper while leaving the card's other hardware (such as RS-232 serial ports) working. A still more radical solution is, of course, to completely remove the card, but this will disable all of its functions.

Adjusting BIOS Options

If one or both of the devices in this task's scenario are built into the motherboard or are PCI devices, you may be able to use BIOS settings to resolve the conflict. Review Figure 2.3 and the description earlier of the Integrated Peripherals area of the BIOS configuration utility. The options in this area are similar to the jumpers on older hardware; you can use them to enable or disable motherboard functions and to adjust various hardware options. If you need only one parallel port, you could disable one of them from this screen. Most motherboards provide only a single parallel port, though, so you might need to combine this action with reconfiguring a plug-in parallel port card via its jumpers or PnP settings.

Another way to adjust BIOS options to avoid conflicts is to review its PnP features. These options vary substantially from one BIOS to another, but you might want to review the options provided by your hardware. In Figure 2.1's BIOS, you would select the PNP/PCI Configurations menu option, which produces a screen in which you can set a few features, such as whether you're using a PnP-aware OS (rcent versions of Linux qualify, but selecting Yes tells the BIOS to do more PnP configuration itself, which sometimes helps clear up problems) and what IRQs to assign to the devices in particular PCI slots. These options might help you to avoid an IRQ conflict.

Adjusting Linux PnP Settings

Finally, Linux itself provides several PnP options you can adjust. For older ISA cards, two methods have existed for PnP configuration: the isapnp utility and kernel configuration options. The isapnp utility is largely outdated, so I don't describe it in detail here.

Both ISA PnP boards and PCI boards can be configured via kernel options. These are passed to the kernel at boot time via your boot loader configuration or to separate kernel modules via lines in the /etc/modules.conffile. (Some distributions build this file from files in the /etc/ modules.ddirectory tree, so you may need to edit files in that directory instead and then type modules-updateor a similar command to rebuild /etc/modules.conf.) Unfortunately, the details of how to set specific options are highly device specific, so you'll need to consult the documentation for the Linux driver for the device to learn how to do the job. To adjust the IRQ used by a device, you might pass an option such as irq=10, or perhaps simply 10, to the driver. When the driver loads, it configures the device to use the requested IRQ instead of the one the kernel or BIOS would otherwise have assigned it.

Sometimes PnP software reconfiguration doesn't work as you'd expect. This can happen because you've specified an option that won't work for the device, because the driver recognizes a conflict that you didn't see, or because of an error in the way you specified the option. Review the driver's documentation and try again if you can't seem to get an option to change.

For devices whose drivers are built into your kernel, you should modify your boot loader configuration. This is typically /boot/grub/grub.conf or /boot/grub/menu.lst for the Grand Unified Boot Loader (GRUB) or /etc/lilo.conffor the Linux Loader (LILO). Phase 5 describes boot loader configuration in more detail.

Criteria for Completion

To complete this task, you should have reviewed three methods of reconfiguring your hardware: hardware jumpers, BIOS options, and Linux PnP settings (particularly the /etc/ modules.conffile). Making random changes is inadvisable, but you should have familiarized yourself with the basic form of all these hardware configuration options. If your hardware is particularly modern, though, you might be hard-pressed to find any jumpers at all.

Use the following table of contents to navigate to chapter excerpts, or click here to view Chapter 2 in its entirety.

Managing Linux hardware and the kernel
  Home: Introduction
 Part 1: Set BIOS Options for Linux: task 2.1
 Part 2: Know the hardware in your computer, task 2.2
 Part 3: Resolve hardware conflicts, task. 2.3
 Part 4: Configure USB devices to Linux, task. 2.4
 Part 5: Configure Linux Disk Drive, task 2.5
 Part 6: Configure and compile a kernel for Linux, task 2.6
 Part 7: Use Linux power management features, task 2.7
 Part 8: Configure X options for Linux, task 2.8
 Part 9: Manage X logins for Linux, task 2.9
 Part 10: Use X for day-to-day operations, task 10
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Roderick W. Smith left a career in academia to pursue his passion for computers. He is particularly interested in Linux and Open Source Software, and has written several books.

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