Ubuntu 11.04 (natty), xorg 1.10 and Nouveau… it’s alive!

Not a very science-y post, but one of my hobbies is tinkering with my computers and in particular, playing with experimental operating systems.  It’s just one of those things – I like seeing what’s new, trying things out, and learning how to fix them when they’re broken. And, for the last week, my computer has been pretty broken.

When I got back from AGBT, I ran a large batch update, which included the dreaded experimental Xorg version 1.10.  Not that its bad code, but it’s completely incompatible with the Nvidia drivers that worked on 1.09 – and with new nvidia proprietary drivers unlikely to be released in the next couple of weeks, xorg 1.10 is likely to continue being thrashing people’s systems for a while to come.  Had I read the post warning people, I probably would have held off on the update, but alas, I hadn’t.

However, after doing some research last week, I was able to get the “nouveau” driver working on my system.  It isn’t a particularly difficult install, and mainly involves making sure you have the driver installed, then switching your xorg.conf file to say

"Driver         "nouveau"
#"Driver        "nvidea"

I did have to switch to using “Twinview” for my dual monitor setup, but that could all be done through the settings in the control panel. (No messing with the xorg file required.)

However, the nouveau driver, by default, does not come with 3D support enabled.  I’m led to believe it is still experimental, but if you’d like to run compiz, you do require 3D graphics.

Thankfully, after a week of 2D desktop usage, I found out that you can add on 3D acceleration quite easily, simply by installing one package:

sudo apt-get install libgl1-mesa-dri-experimental

Once installed, you simply need to restart X (or the computer, either one works) and 3D support will be there!

I tested out compiz first with the 2008 utility “compizcheck”, which will warn you that nouveau isn’t known to support compiz. (After all, in 2008, nouveau was a pretty lean package.)  But, the waning can be suppressed, and if all else is good, will give you the green light.

At that point, if all looks good, you can give compiz a whirl with the command:

compiz --replace &

If everything is working, you’ll see a bunch of status lines showing things being initialized and updated, and no errors.  If not, you can simply restart your previous window manager (in my case, it’s kwin) with the similar command:

kwin --replace &

Either way, I’m happy to report that everything is now working for me – I’ve got Ubuntu 11.04 (natty) running happily with Xorg 1.10 and the Nouveau drivers.  I won’t say it’s perfect, as I’m still seeing artifacts during 3D animations (for instance, during the rotation of screens for the desktop cube, an extra copy of the desktop in a partially rotated position flashes for about 1/2 a second.)  but for the most part, things are working pretty well.

8 thoughts on “Ubuntu 11.04 (natty), xorg 1.10 and Nouveau… it’s alive!

  1. I’ve been using the Xorg 1.10 release candidates for quite some time, and they work pretty nice with the open source ATI drivers (Gentoo, X11 overlay). One thing I’m not sure how to do is setting the touchpad options and system-wide xkb options. Putting them in xorg.conf doesn’t seem to be working anymore. Other than that, I find 1.10 to be stable enough. No crashes or no weird flickering whatsoever.

    • Thanks for the comment, Attila.

      That makes perfect sense – the instability I’m seeing is almost certainly a consequence of using the nouveau drivers (open source for NVIDIA) or my choice of KDE+Compiz, rather than an inherent problem in X 1.10. I’ve been using the open source ATI drivers on another computer (not running 11.04) for over a year now, and it’s perfectly stable. Unfortunately, the nouveau drivers (and particularly the 3d acceleration for them) is no where near as robust as the ATI drivers.

      As for the xorg.conf, I don’t think I even have a file with that name at this point – I moved it to xorg.conf.backup and restarted and things seem to have worked for me ever since by using the KDE system properties settings to set up dual monitor and my keyboard/mouse settings.

  2. What video card do you have?
    I would want to try nouveau 3d in my NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GS
    How could I measure how safe it is to install development drivers?

    I have tried NVIDIA’s propietary drivers but they really suck to my eyes. Maybe I am asking for a lot, but I can really see the difference in performance between Ubuntu and Windows.


    • On that computer, it’s an NVidia 9600, if I remember right.

      As for safety, I think we’ve come way since the early days when drivers could burn out your card. There’s no harm in testing out a development driver at this point – nearly all drivers are able to recognize the monitors and make sure that they stay within safe limits. (Monitors now can communicate with the computer to pass EDID numbers, so there is no confusion about what modes are available on the display.)

      When you say you can see a difference in performance, how exactly are you seeing/measuring it?

  3. I have been trying to setup a dual monitor with the nouveau driver on Ubuntu Natty. But only get a brown colored screen . Can anyone give me a sample xorg.conf file ?

    I am using dual DVI Nvidia card

    • This is what it looked like on Feb 01, when I was using Nouveau + compiz + kde. Compiz isn’t stable enough, so I’ve since switched back to nvidia/kde. Hope this is helpful.

      Section "ServerLayout"
      Identifier "Layout0"
      Screen 0 "Screen0" 0 0
      Option "Xinerama" "0"

      Section "Files"

      Section "Monitor"
      # HorizSync source: edid, VertRefresh source: edid
      Identifier "Monitor0"
      VendorName "Unknown"
      ModelName "ViewSonic VX924"
      HorizSync 30.0 - 82.0
      VertRefresh 50.0 - 75.0
      Option "DPMS"

      Section "Device"
      Identifier "Device0"
      Driver "nouveau"
      # Driver "nvidia"

      VendorName "NVIDIA Corporation"
      BoardName "GeForce 7600 GT"

      Section "Screen"
      Identifier "Screen0"
      Device "Device0"
      Monitor "Monitor0"
      DefaultDepth 24
      Option "TwinView" "1"
      Option "metamodes" "DFP-0: nvidia-auto-select +0+0, DFP-1: nvidia-auto-select +1280+0"
      SubSection "Display"
      Depth 24

  4. I did it too on my 10.10 with exactly the same compizcheck status. I couldn’t figure out what actually hapenned until I read this post.

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