Imladris Upgrade (nvidia problems)

I upgraded imladris (my personal box) yesterday after a long gap. Most of the process went very smoothly, but there some issues that took me some time to work around. This is really to record what I did to fix some issues for the benefit of myself and any others that have the same problems. I bought an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.66GHz CPU (which interestingly is regarded as amd64 in linux distributions, not ia64), an Asus P5KC motherboard, 2 GIG DDR2 RAM and an nvidia GeForce 8500GT. I probably regret the last item since I asked for an ati card but was talked out of it by the sales guy who also uses GNU Linux (but probably doesn’t worry about the proprietary drivers). My fear was that the nv free driver for xorg wasn’t so hot, and I think that’s been borne out.

After an hour or so I powered up the new system, found only one CPU reported on the old stock kernel, so installed the amd64 stock kernel (this is debian lenny, and I’m still running the applications in 32 bit mode), and there we have it, two CPU traces. The machine is operating very nicely, very responsive and undertaking complex jobs with ease, and without flat-lining either CPU. It is probably quieter than my old AMD single core processor, which is rather slower than each core. However, there were some problems with both sound and video.

I switched xorg.conf to the nv driver, but had problems getting the resolutions sorted out. Then I found the text was just far too large on the desktop, this is all the text controlled by the gnome appearance settings. It was much larger than the specified value, and enough to make the high resolution pointless. Eventually I tracked the problem to xorg misreading the screen size, and modified xorg.conf appropriately to fix this.

Section "Device"
        Identifier      "nVidia Corporation GeForce 8500 GT"
        Driver          "nv"
        # and so on, and the next line turns off automatic screen size detection
        Option          "DDC" "no"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
        Identifier      "Idek Iiyama Vision Master 510"
        Option          "DPMS"
        HorizSync       30-130
        VertRefresh     50-160
        # I physically measured the screen with a ruler and put the mm values in here.
        DisplaySize     400 300

after which video was serviceable again. My KVM might be the reason for this issue. The graphics performance is still not brilliantly quick by any means. I also discovered problems with the xv support – there isn’t any. Despite all the literature suggesting only old cards should have this problem, no xv is available for some reason. This causes tvtime to bomb out (I have only one other PCI card, a TV decoder) politely, explaining the issue, but gxine manages to crash the whole X session (of course the xserver should never allow this). Running gxine -V XShm works, but pitifully slowly, and there are all sorts of the other problems if you change to a virtual terminal for example. I still haven’t resolved this single issue, and it, and the generally poor performance in 2D might be enough to make me regret the choice of card. (I only bought a new card since the motherboard is PCI-E only – the new card, and its flawed driver, is arguably slower and more problematic than my years old ATI card with its free driver).

There seems to be a slight issue with my wacom graphics tablet, but I haven’t played with that a lot. Simply, it no longer expands to the full bounds of the screen in my 1600 by 1200 resolution. I think this is linked to the other dimensional problems and known scaling bugs in xserver-xorg. Interestingly, it works just fine when my daughter logs in on her much smaller resolution desktop, and that is mainly why I have it, so fixing it can wait a while.

The other curious problem was sound. The sound (provided by an on-board intel chip and the snd-intel-hda driver) worked generally, but for example, firefox plugins had no sound, even totem, where totem standalone worked fine. Also when I switched to a different user in vt8 I had no sound. Eventually I tracked this to esd hogging the sound completely, even though that configuration was unchanged. I installed PulseAudio (debian package pulseaudio) as a drop in esd replacement, and bingo, all the sound worked.

One other warning, there was no PS/2 port for the mouse. It’s been a while since I bought new components obviously, so (since I have existing KVM cables) I had to get a converter from PS/2 to USB, until then I had to use my daughter’s ladybird mouse. Now I’m back to my trackball.

All in all a success, but I’m more convinced than ever I should have bought an ati card, their free xorg drivers seem to be much more stable than the nv driver.

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One thought on “Imladris Upgrade (nvidia problems)”

  1. Ok, I spoke to soon. I thought video was my only problem.

    On Tuesday I planned to work at home, to get a lot of code written for OPUS and found my computer locked. I kept restarting it, kept getting kernel panics. The temperature was fine, there was no

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