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My laptop, a Thinkpad SL510, is certified* on Ubuntu 11.04. I upgraded to 11.10 and then 12.04. After a month long fight to keep a decent wifi signal and trying numerous fixes, I gave up and reinstalled 11.04. However, now, I continually get notices to upgrade to 11.10.

My question is why would I want to update to 11.10 or 12.04 without those versions being tested against my hardware?

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First of all, you don't have to upgrade (though upgrading sooner, especially if you're not on an LTS release, makes it easier, and quicker, to upgrade later). You can turn off release update notifications in the updater settings.

That said, just because a set of hardware hasn't been certified for a particular version, it doesn't mean it won't work. It's kind of like the little "Built for Windows XP" stickers on Windows machines - just because it was built for XP, it doesn't mean that Windows 7 or Linux won't work on it. However, it does mean that it might take more work to make it work or make it work ideally. You may have to compile drivers from source or download them a third party location, for example (compiling is not terribly painful, but not for novices, either). If you're running a modern computer, you usually don't run into such issues with upgrading, because the drivers will generally be the same (where you would run into issues is with legacy hardware, since you can't really expect built-in support for something like your 20-year-old dot matrix printer to continue indefinitely, they have to draw the line somewhere).

In your case, it sounds like there's a bug in the wireless drivers in 12.04 for your card. The easy thing to do is to hold off on upgrading for a month or two. This gives developers time to update the drivers for the new system. (On a side note, have you tried just going to 11.10? Depending on when the bug was introduced, you may be able to upgrade to 11.10 without issue, buying you more time before the release you're using goes end of life.)

Hardware matters aside, it's generally a good idea to update on some kind of regular basis, because the versions go end of life every few releases (non-LTS goes end-of-life every 18 months, or 3 releases). Once they go end of life, you won't get updates at all, and Canonical will pull the repositories entirely.

Updating also provides you with (easy) access to newer (or the newest) versions of your software, as well as things like kernel and security updates. In the case of Linux distros running Gnome 3 or Unity, it also means interface and usability enhancements, as these new technologies are refined.

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Update: I'm at 11.10 right now and will hold off updating to 12.04 for a bit. The wifi is working as expected. My current driver is iwlagn. 12.04 has the lwiwifi (?) driver which after doing some research, I saw repeatedly. – Richard May 16 '12 at 2:16

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