Ubuntu kernel update and my Nvidia 8800GT

Earlier this week, Ubuntu 8.04 update manager notified me of new kernel updates and I went ahead and installed them. I have rarely had any problem with such updates in the past. But this morning things went differently. I use an Acer P241w  monitor with1920x1200 resolution. First thing I noticed when i rebooted is that my screen resolution has shrunk to 640×480 and I could not change it to anything else when I went to the screen resolution preferences. I use a Nvidia 8800GT. It is considered to be fairly new card in terms of driver support in Ubuntu. I could not get it to work in Gutsy Gibbon when I tried late last year (even with the help of Envy).

When I had installed 8.04 earlier this year the system automatically detected and gave me the option to install the restricted Nvidia driver. After that it had been fairly straight forward for me to enable compiz-fusion and set the correct screen resolution. I never had to directly download Nvidia driver from their website or mess around with xorg.conf, etc.

So when I lost the screen resolution, I tried a number of things. Looked at my  /etc/X11/xorg.conf and I noticed all the usual monitor resolution options were gone. Then I tried to specify the monitor type using displayconfig-gtk. I chose the generic LCD monitor option with 1920×1200 resolution and did check the widescreen checkbox. Did a reboot and still the screen resolution preference dialog did not show me any of the resolution options I was expecting. I then proceeded to check the System->Administration->Hardware Drivers which shows me that the Nvidia restricted driver was not enabled. I enabled it and still it did not help much. I disabled and re-enabled it to force a new install of the restricted driver.

At this point I was getting desperate. Finally seeking and browsing suggestions from wonderful folks on Ubuntu Forums sorted things out. It appears some of the kernel mods sometimes cause load failure with the newer Nvidia driver modules. Best option in such case is to reinstall the driver. Obviously the restricted Nvidia driver that is being distrbuted from the ubuntu repository did not work for me. So combining a number of suggestions from Ubuntuforums and Compiz-Fusion.org I managed to get stuff working finally.

  1. Downloaded the latest linux Nvidia GeForce 8 driver for my card from Nvidia 
  2. Installed it by executing sudo sh NVIDIA-Linux-x86-173.14.12.pkg1.run. I simply answered yes to all the prompts. Even after the install I was still having issues possibly due to conflicts with the existing restricted driver on the system. My login prompt screen would be nice 1920×1200. But as soon as I log in I would get a unreadable screen with horizontal lines across the screen. In that situation I would ssh in remotely and switch back to an earlier xorg.conf to get a smaller but legible screen after a reboot and login. I did notice that the restricted driver was still showing up in Hardware drivers control panel.
  3. Putting a DISABLED_MODULES="nv" entry in /etc/default/linux-restricted-modules-common seemed to fix the screen readability issue. But now I was getting a 1920×1200 desktop screen which extended beyond the physical monitor size and I was able to drag it around!
  4. I also could not enable compiz effects. But, based on compiz-fusion.org forum research executing the following that took care of the effects problem.
    • nvidia-xconfig --composite
    • nvidia-xconfig --allow-glx-with-composite
    • nvidia-xconfig --render-accel
    • nvidia-xconfig --add-argb-glx-visuals
  5. Regarding the screen extending beyond the physical monitor, I noticed the scan frequency was set at 50Hz on the screen preference dialog. Setting it to 58Hz took care of it.
  6. This time I made sure I had a backup of the xorg.conf!

This time the tial and error process probably messed things up a bit more. Next time I would probably just start with a video driver uninstall first.

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