For Linux desktop users, updating to a new Linux kernel usually comes with relatively low and contained risks: wonky drivers, painful GRUB, maybe a full wipe and reinstall. However, for a subset of laptop owners on progressive release distributions, kernel version 5.19.12 could break the LCD screen.
“After reviewing some logs, we are left with potentially false panel power sequencing delays, which can damage the LCD panel,” Intel engineer Ville Syrjälä wrote in a discussion on the issue. “I recommend immediate return of this stuff and a new stable release as soon as possible. Plus a recommendation that no one using laptops with Intel GPUs run 5.19.12.”
A day later kernel 5.19.13 was released. But there is a distribution chain between kernel work and distribution desktops, and some laptop owners have been caught up in it.
“Two days ago, I updated to kernel 5.(19).12, and my screen now flickers quickly,” user CrepeDragonball wrote in the r/framework for owners subreddit. Framework laptop, which contains an integrated Intel Iris Xe GPU. “I can see the flickering even on UEFI (BIOS), so I think it’s hardware related, not OS/driver related. … The flickering is at such a high rate[s] that I can’t capture it with my phone’s camera.” Similar reports have appeared in the ArchLinux and Fedora forums and subreddits, as well as the official Framework forum.
Some users have reported flickering that doesn’t go away after reboot or after switching to basic tools like BIOS or GRUB. A few have managed to switch kernel versions by connecting to an external monitor and have seen the flicker gradually fade over time. But panel power sequencing (aka screen timing) that goes wrong can permanently damage displays, especially LCDs built into laptops. At the time of this publication, the original Framework subreddit poster has not posted a message about restoring his screen.
Linux kernels and distributions causing physical damage to desktop hardware are rare but not unheard of. Mandrake 9.2 was found in October 2003 to be able to kill specific LG CD-ROM drives. The cause could have been kernel code, LG firmware, or both, according to an update on a Linux.com post about the problem. LWN.net noted that LG Electronics does not support or test the hardware with Linux.
More generally, material is written or operated outside of specification; many veteran hardware programmers attest to this centuries-old tradition in an unusually intriguing Quora thread.
It’s a good idea to update your Linux kernel beyond 5.19.12 if possible or downgrade, even if you don’t immediately see graphical issues.