Another consideration I take seriously is mirroring my partitions. If that's not possible for some reason, then I will at least have the home directory backed up along with a package list so I can reinstall my software easily.
By taking this approach, I am assured that even if something goes wrong I'm not without easy recovery options. If the issues are minor, I could simply roll back to the previous kernel instead. In both instances, installing the new kernel won’t be a problem no matter how it turns out.
After the upgrade – testing for changes
One of the things I like to do before getting too comfortable with a new kernel is to see whether or not things are still running as they should be during my initial tests. Speaking for myself, I've never had hardware working differently after a kernel upgrade. However, I’ve seen my wireless dongles adjust a bit in the speed department on occasion.
One example would be the internal Atheros wireless card on my netbook. This adapter uses the heavily tested ath9k wireless driver.
After a recent kernel upgrade, I noticed that it suddenly went from 160Mbps down to 65Mbps. Considering that no other changes were made to my netbook, I thought the problem must have been related to the kernel upgrade. After I did some tinkering around, it struck me that perhaps the issue was with the router after all!
On a hunch, I logged into my router and changed my default wireless channel settings. Bingo, that did the trick and I was now back to the 150-160Mbps range.
While it lacked the speed seen with my Ralink RT2870-based dongle used on my larger notebook computer, I found the speed being offered to me was more than enough, considering the lumpy throughput of my mixed 802.11g/n router setup.
Even more important, the kernel update was proven not to have interfered with the existing wireless performance. I've decided this serves as a personal reminder to check external causes before blaming a system upgrade for networking woes.
Additional areas I recommend testing include your peripherals and overall system performance. For notebooks, check that the temperature is still normal and your fans aren't running into overdrive. I would also suggest testing out your preferred scanning software as kernel updates can affect this functionality as well.
Getting the most out of kernel 3.2
With the discussion about the merits and challenges of upgrading your kernel to 3.2, it should also be noted that making the leap isn't going to magically solve all your Linux challenges overnight. But rather than drag down the efforts put forth by the developers, I'd like to offer some supplemental ideas to enhance what the new kernel has to offer.
Power consumption – It's said that the 3.2 kernel is going to do wonders for power management. This is nonsense. The fact is that it does make better use of resources, especially on the graphics card side of things.
Wireless support – This is an area that can frequently find itself enhanced by various kernel updates, but more often than not most people won't see a clear benefit with existing hardware. The best advice I can offer here is to avoid using NDISWrapper like the plague, instead stick to Atheros, Intel, RealTek and Ralink devices supported here.
As a general rule, if you're looking at USB dongles and hate compiling, stick with 802.11g options. If you must have 802.11n and still hate compiling, look to Intel. I could write an article on this alone, explaining how I never deal with wireless compatibility issues, but it's a complex subject best suited for another time.
Run decent specs – Just because your favorite distribution can run on 128MB of RAM doesn't mean it's a great idea. And don't expect a new kernel to magically make a bogged down PC run faster, either.
My advice when running heavier desktop environments: run at least 1GB of RAM, if not more. RAM is so cheap, it's really silly not to keep your system running with a healthy dose of memory allocated to needed resources. And if you must run a low resource PC, run a desktop environment reflecting this need.
And there you have it. For advanced Linux users, a kernel upgrade isn't that big of a deal. But for the rest of the world, I've found it helpful to keep the pointers above in mind just to make life a little easier.