Alder Lake laptop webcam support on Linux is very flimsy

Linux support with webcams has reportedly become a major issue when it comes to 12th Gen Alder Lake laptops right now, as a recent Phoronix item. Linux kernel manager Greh Kroah-Hartman said causal users should avoid Alder Lake laptops running Linux if they want to make video calls on their machines. Problems with mainline kernel support for webcams made webcam support almost non-existent.

Hartman says – ironically Linux support with Alder Lake has been really good. But for some reason, webcams are the only exception. The lack of mainline kernel support has forced manufacturers to create proprietary drivers for their webcams.

The prime example of this is the new MIPI IPU6 webcams found in Alder Lake laptops like the Dell XPS 13 and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The Linux driver supporting IPU6 is completely proprietary and only supports specific kernel versions of Linux. This makes Linux kernel updates impossible unless you want bricked-in webcam functionality.

This is just one example of limited Linux webcam support, with Hartman himself commenting that you shouldn’t “…buy these laptops if the vendor isn’t willing to get their drivers up and running properly.”

The main problem is that the IPU6 drivers do not use the Video 4 Linux 2 interface, which is a common API used by webcam drivers for Linux. Instead, the IPU6 drivers rely on a different API because the camera is more complex than other solutions, and the vendors don’t want to share any of their imaging algorithms with the public.

Fortunately, Phoronix says there are plans to upstream Intel’s IPU6 driver to the CAM kernel API, which appears to be a new open-source webcam API for Linux. But this work is still a long way off, with a development schedule of at least a year, or even two years.

Basically, it looks like most 12th gen laptop models sport this new MIPI IPU6 webcam and as a result may suffer from Linux compatibility issues due to poor support via proprietary drivers.

If you can find an Alder Lake laptop with a different webcam, chances are it doesn’t have these issues. You can always connect one of the better external webcams and it will probably have Linux support. Or, alternatively, you can have Windows as your host OS and run Linux in a virtual environment instead.

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