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Let's say I want to buy a cheap USB device which does X. I also want this device to be compatible with Linux.

The problem is that in many cases, such devices may be generic or unbranded, and there may not be much information about them on the web to help me figure out if others have used that particular device successfully with Linux.

Some examples:

  • USB Video capture devices or TV Sticks,

  • Sound cards

  • WiFi Devices

  • Bazillions of other awesome things

Are there any ways to (try) to determine if this device is compatible with Linux, before buying it ?

I vaguely remember reading that one can look at the Windows drivers for clues as to the chips used, and then find if those are Linux-compatible, is this possible ?

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  • Some shops will offer a full refund within the first 14 days if the device turns out not to work with Linux. If you ask for it, you may even get that in writing. – kasperd Sep 10 '15 at 14:03
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    This problem is very different for different types of devices. Restricting to USB doesn't narrow it down all that much. Some types of peripherals have a standard protocol so that all peripherals will work. Others are a mess of incompatible firmware versions sold under the same (or no) brand. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Sep 10 '15 at 23:39
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    I think this is a good question but I think it would be better off elsewhere, perhaps Super User. – JohnB Sep 11 '15 at 17:16
  • Try to find this device in the linux-hardware.org/?view=search and investigate the logs (dmesg, xorg.log, hwinfo, etc.) for drivers used and errors. – linuxbuild Dec 11 '15 at 15:03
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The problem with those kinds of USB devices is that it's very difficult to know what chip they are actually using. Some devices in the same series might even use different components if the manufacturer was able to source a slightly different component at a cheaper price. They would then ship a Windows driver that supports the different variations of hardware components.

It may be possible to glean something about the used chips by looking at the Windows or Mac drivers. What you would be looking for are strings that you could match against existing Linux drivers.

However, before going through that trouble, you could do the following:

  1. See if the manufacturer or seller has some mention of Linux compatibility, either in the available documentation, marketing material, or online forums.
  2. Search online for any of the marketing terms for the device to see if anyone else has already tried using it with Linux.
  3. Search in one of the Linux driver databases. There are several available (and some list other OSes as well), such as http://www.linux-drivers.org/, https://wiki.debian.org/Hardware, https://h-node.org/, and https://www.linuxquestions.org/hcl/.

In general, if the manufacturer doesn't declare Linux support for the device, chances are it won't work very well even if there are Linux drivers. Then again, even devices with declared Linux support don't always work well or might not support all of the device's functionality. Ultimately, there are no guarantees and the only way to know for sure is to try. I've had some luck with shops that would allow me to bring a laptop and try the device in the store before deciding to buy or not. (In those cases I've mostly found that the USB device didn't work at all or was practically unusable.)

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