Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Beta - upgrading the video card

The Gigabyte GeForce 7600GS card came in the mail today, delivered from Newegg via UPS. And just like I'd threatened earlier, I replaced rhea's 9600 with it. When I pulled out the older video card I re-discovered it wasn't a regular 9600, it was a 9600SE. That's a low-end budget card with a 64-bit memory interface introduced in 2003 that I purchased in 2005 on sale. The 7600GS, a mid-range card with a 128-bit memory interface, was introduced last year. That's a three year difference in architecture, with double the memory channel, double the amount of video memory on the card, and four times the number of processing elements. Not to mention other architectural differences and improvements spanning three years. The difference was quite noticeably better with the 7600GS. Time had indeed marched on.

Updates Before the Upgrade

Before I swapped out the hardware there were 33 new updates waiting for the system. I accepted the upgrades and that started a three-ring upgrade circus, where one of the upgrade cycles complained that I had a damaged package. But after accepting the third successive upgrade, that problem disappeared and (I think anyway) all the updates were successfully installed.

Installing the 7600GS

After the updates I edited the xorg.conf file and changed the device sections driver entry from 'ati' to 'vesa'. Turned off the machine, swapped the cards, turned the machine back on, and booted back into Ubuntu. After login I start the Restricted Drivers applet in order to install the nVidia native drivers. That's when the applet politely informed me I had to run 'sudo dpkg-reconfigure -phigh xserver-xorg' because my xorg.conf file wasn't standard issue (remember I'd modified it earlier). Now, what I want to know is why, if Ubuntu's developers go to so much trouble to give you a very good one-click Restricted Drivers applet, that that applet can't also just perform the xorg.conf cleanup before installing the drivers. All it needs to do is ask (in the same dialog complaining about the problem) if you want it cleaned up right then and there.

After running the command in a terminal and stepping through a few questions (resolution of the screen specifically) I then re-ran Restricted Drivers and installed the nVidia drivers. Then, just for good measure, I rebooted the machine. In spite of everything upgrading the hardware turned out to be pretty simple and painless. Just like Windows, only mo' better.

Playing Around

First thing I did was run some of my DVDs and other movie clips I've got lying around. Everything played the same as it did before the change, only mo' better. In particular I was able to make a screen capture of Totem playing a movie and capture the video, instead of getting a nice black rectangle. I don't know if it's the drivers for the new card or an update of Ubuntu, but it makes screen captures (like the one below) a lot easier. And it matches what I can do with Suse 10.2 on europa using the 9700 Pro.

Here's a bit of trivia: Chiwetel Ejiofor (seen above), who played The Operative on "Serenity", played Luke on "Children of Men", one of the DVDs I picked up today (DVD Tuesday). I like him. He's pretty good and he plays interesting and varied roles.

Next, I fired up Google Earth, the acid test, and went visiting Denver. It finally runs flawlessly. In fact, in a bazaar surprise (to me anyway), it ran no slower rendering Denver's 3D buildings than the Athlon 64/SLED system I have at work. I need to run some more tests just to be absolutely sure, but the fact it performed this task well makes this revitalized system a keeper. I may even go so far as to get a second 7600GS to replace the ATI 9700 Pro in europa.

So. Rhea is updated with a more current video card GPU, and video intensive applications are running a lot smoother. Now I'm just limited by system memory (512MB) and the disk drives themselves (PATA 100). Changing out the video card is a lot cheaper than buying a whole new system, and using Ubuntu 7.04 (or Suse 10.2 or even Fedora Core 6) is far cheaper than paying for Vista. It's not so much I'm a cheap bastard, it's just I'm tired of running on the constant upgrade treadmill. I can't afford the cash outlays for entire systems and I don't use a lot of what I've currently got because I don't have the time. And I've reached the point where I just can't stand Microsoft any more. I really can't. But, that's a rant for another time and post.


  1. nice trick you did changing the driver to 'vesa' before swapping the cards.

    hey, if you're trowing out the old 9600, send it to me instead. i'd make good use of it. =)

  2. eBay for the 9600?

    Nice to see the upgrade went painlessly. I had a 9600 in my old system. I bought an nVidia 7600 (can't remember if I got the GS or GT) for my new system because I heard it was a bit more Linux friendly.

    Built it in January so I could get XP Pro and free Vista - which I have in my possession but with no intention of actually installing it, by the way. Maybe in a year or 2 I'll give it a try. XP Pro is working fine.

    I figure that if your a gamer, and I like to play a few games, I figure a person only needs 1 Windows machine. What would be nice is the ability to run Windows as a virtual machine and have it use hardware rendering of the video card the same as if it was running natively. In time I suppose.

    Just a few more days until Feisty is released. I'm looking forward to your final review. Then I'll be looking to see what freespire 2.0 looks like. I have a feeling it will be the best of both worlds.

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