29 Aug

Karmic Koala & ATI Radeon

Category:Hacking, Hardware, Howto's

This post will deal with the Alpha4 release of Ubuntu 9.10 “Karmic Koala”, and it’s new features, particularly the functionality of ATI Radeon cards.

I did a clean install yesterday, and this is what i’m liking so far:

  • Empathy, the new default IM client is awesome. I didn’t find plugin support yet, but it’s light, and clean. Just the way i like it.
  • The boot time is less than 20 seconds on my machine. It’s nearly not enough to go do anything else while i’m waiting, which is a great feature for someone that has to deal with windows vista at work every day…
  • Firefox 3.5 ubuntu branded by default. Thanks. That package is missing from 9.04 right now, and while you can still install it, it takes some work to go from the Beta name of “Shiretoko” to Firefox, with icons and everything. It works, but it’s not perfect.

What i don’t like:

  • The new default login screen sucks ass.
  • While the new 2.6.31 series kernel is a great improvement in many areas, AMD has not yet supported it in it’s binary fglrx drivers (which offer 3d acceleration and the works on ATI cards)

So this will be the topic of discussion today. ATI cards have traditionally been much worse than those of Nvidia on any Linux distro. AMD (ex. ATI) offers drivers called fglrx which provide full 3D acceleration in Linux, and when they are working, the cards can offer great performance. However. When they don’t work, disaster ensues.

When you install Karmic, you’ll get the traditional “Hardware Drivers” dialog, which will say you have a device that requires propietary drivers that weren’t installed by default. Yeah no shit they weren’t. You select your device, you hit install. It downloads the drivers, installs them, makes modifications to xorg.conf, and asks you to reboot. With Karmic Alpha4, i got no download dialog, even if it seemed to do something. The selection of my card remained inactive and grey, instead of the green “activated” button that appears when drivers have been installed. So i thought that the drivers somehow failed (didn’t look at debug or anything). I went about my business, doing an apt-get update && apt-get upgrade, and then rebooting.

To my great dismay, it wouldn’t load gdm at all, but instead displayed an esoteric graphical pattern in the top section of my screen. So, switch to a shell, check out /etc/X11/xorg.conf, and sure enough, fglrx was jotted down as the driver. So clearly, this didn’t work.

To get past this problem, uninstall and clean the fglrx drivers. They are not supported in the 2.6.31 kernel yet, so we need to wait for AMD’s 9.9 series drivers for this. Usually they’ll be out in time for the Beta’s or at least the release, so i’m not fretting.


aptitude purge xorg-driver-fglrx && dpkg-reconfigure -phigh xserver-xorg && exit

This removes the driver, deletes anything related to it, and runs a reconfigure on xorg.

You should now have a clean xorg.conf. Install the xorg-driver-radeon if you don’t have them (i’m not sure, i think they were installed by default), and then edit xorg.conf and in the device section, set the driver option to “radeon”, if it isn’t.

You should now be able to boot in to a graphical user interface.

Okay dual screens. To make these work, as a “big desktop”, make your xorg.conf look like this. I tried different options, and fiddling around with the “System -> Preferences -> Display” dealio, but that didn’t get me anywhere. It’ll ask you to “automatically set the virtual resolution to match your screens”, but the end result was 2048 x 2048, in xorg.conf, which obviously didn’t work.

Here’s my xorg.conf:

Section “Screen”
Identifier      “Default Screen”
DefaultDepth    24
SubSection “Display”
Virtual 3360 1050

Section “Module”
Load    “glx”

Section “Device”
Identifier      “Default Device”
Driver  “radeon”

In all it’s simplicity, i made the virtual resolution match the maximum resolutions of my screens set next to each other. I have two 22″ Samsungs, each with a 1680×1050 resolution. So i added up the width resolution and that was it. I restarted X (why does ctrl-alt-bkspace not work anymore?), and went to Display, and then unchecked “mirror displays”, and dragged the screens next to each other. Apply, Ok, restart X. Dual screen.

UPDATE! Video playback works *much* better with the radeon drivers than the fglrx drivers ever did in Jaunty 9.04! I’m playing a FullHD video, in full screen with no tearing (which was evident in 9.04 with fglrx drivers), and no problems. 40 CPU load on one core. 500 megs ram used with a bunch of other stuff on as well.

So conclusions: If you don’t need 3d performance (i.e. compiz, gaming whathaveyou), don’t install the propietary drivers. Stick with the open-source ones!

9 thoughts on “Karmic Koala & ATI Radeon

  1. repo must have changed since your post, had an issue with ati drivers under all of karmic so far, but I did try and enable proprietary drivers. I just changed xorg.conf to radeon and had to install xserver-xorg-video-radeonhd (not actually sure if I needed to, but it jumped out on a apt-cache search radeon). In any case, this post help me resolve my issues to some degree. Thanks!

    1. Quite possible, or then a package changed with the same effect. Glad i could help a little at least.

      Still waiting for the official fglrx drivers from ATI/AMD with kernel 2.6.31-> support…

  2. Yes, I’ve some issues too. Nevertheless, MESA drivers are ok, but I can’t use my second monitor and I feel like crap.

    Using Jaunty, I had to quit Compiz -it doesn’t worked at all- and I get used to my 2nd screen. Now, Karmic comes to my place and gave me Compiz, but not 2nd screen. Sh*t.

    I’ll be waiting for ATI -again-. ¬¬

    1. Hey, try the new Beta if you haven’t already. It works much better, and i think ATI has added proper support for the new kernel now. You can run either the propietary fglrx driver, or the radeon driver, depending on what you need, and what works for you. So far, no major problems with the fglrx driver which didn’t work at all in Karmic before the beta.

    1. Oh wow. Looks pretty messed up!

      I’ll post my xorg.conf which is very minimalistic and you should be able to just copy this one on top of your own file. I have a version for both fglrx and radeon drivers, so which ever you use, you should be able to get it working.

      The only problem is, i’m at work, so i’ll post it when i get home.

    2. Plus also, since you get it working, but it stops working after a moment, it might be a heat-issue. A colleague has the same issue on an IBM laptop, where the graphics chip heats up too much when a second screen is connected. Could this be the issue? Since i assume it works with a single screen ?

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