A need to update graphics hardware

Not being a gaming enthusiast, having to upgrade graphics cards in PC’s is not something that I do very often or even rate as a priority. However, two PC’s in my possession have had that very piece of hardware upgraded on them and it’s not because anything was broken either. My backup machine has seen quite a few Linux distros on there since I built it nearly four years ago. The motherboard is an ASRock K10N78 that sourced from MicroDirect and it has onboard an NVIDIA graphics chip that has performed well if not spectacularly. One glitch that always existed was a less than optimal text rendering in web browsers but that never was enough to get me to add a graphics card to the machine.

More recently, I ran into trouble with Sabayon 13.04 with only the 2D variant of the Cinnamon desktop environment working on it and things getting totally non-functional when a full re-installation of the GNOME edition was attempted. Everything went fine until I added the latest updates to the system when a reboot revealed that it was impossible to boot into a desktop environment. Some will relish this as a challenge but I need to admit that I am not one of those. In fact, I tried out two Arch-based distros on the same PC and got the same results following a system update on each. So, my explorations of Antergos and Manjaro have to continue in virtual machines instead.

To get a working system, I gave Linux Mint 15 Cinnamon a go and that worked a treat. However, I couldn’t ignore that the cutting edge distros that I tried before it all took exception to the onboard NVIDIA graphics. systemd has been implemented in all of these and it seems reasonable to think that it is coming to Linux Mint at some stage in the future so I went about getting a graphics card to add into the machine. Having had good experiences with ATi’s Radeon in the past, I stuck with it even though it now is in the hands of AMD. Not being that fussed so long there was Linux driver support, I picked up a Radeon HD 6450 card from PC World. Adding it into the PC was a simpler of switching off the machine, slotting in the card, closing it up and powering it on again. Only later on did I set the BIOS to look for PCI Express graphics before anything else and I could have got away without doing that. Then, I made use of the Linux Mint Additional Driver applet in its setting panel to add in the proprietary driver before restarting the machine to see if there were any visual benefits. To sort out the web browser font rendering, I used the Fonts applet in the same settings panel and selected full RGBA hinting. The improvement was unmissable if not still like the appearance of fonts on my main machine. Overall, there had been an improvement and a spot of future proofing too.

That tinkering with the standby machine got me wondering about what I had on my main PC. As well as onboard Radeon graphics, it also gained a Radeon 4650 card for which 3D support wasn’t being made available by Ubuntu GNOME 12.10 or 13.04 to VMware Player and it wasn’t happy about this when a virtual machine was set to have 3D support. Adding the latest fglrx driver only ensured that I got a command line instead of a graphical interface. Issuing one of the following commands and rebooting was the only remedy:

sudo apt-get remove fglrx

sudo apt-get remove fglrx-updates

Looking at the AMD website revealed that they no longer support 2000, 3000 or 4000 series Radeon cards with their latest Catalyst driver the last version that did not install on my machine since it was built for version 3.4.x of the Linux kernel. A new graphics card then was in order if I wanted 3D graphics in VWware VM’s and both GNOME and Cinnamon appear to need this capability. Another ASUS card, a Radeon HD 6670, duly was acquired and installed in a manner similar to the Radeon HD 6450 on the standby PC. Apart from not needing to alter the font rendering (there is a Font tab on Gnome Tweak Tool where this can be set), the only real exception was to add the Jockey software to my main PC for installation of the proprietary Radeon driver. The following command does this:

sudo apt-get install jockey-kde

When that was done I issue the jockey-kde command and selected the first entry on the list. The machine worked as it should on restarting apart from an AMD message at the bottom right hand corner bemoaning unrecognised hardware. There had been two entries on that Jockey list with exactly the same name so it was time to select the second of these and see how it went. On restarting, the incompatibility message had gone and all was well. VMware even started virtual machines with 3D support without any messages so the upgrade did the needful there.

Hearing of someone doing two PC graphics card upgrades in a weekend may make you see them as an enthusiast but my disinterest in computer gaming belies this. Maybe it highlights that Linux operating systems need 3D more than might be expected. The Cinnamon desktop environment now issues messages if it is operating in 2D mode with software 3D rendering and GNOME always had the tendency to fall back to classic mode, as it had been doing when Sabayon was installed on my standby PC. However, there remain cases where Linux can rejuvenate older hardware and I installed Lubuntu onto a machine with 10 year old technology on there (an 1100 MHz Athlon CPU, 1GB of RAM and 60GB of hard drive space in case dating from 1998) and it works surprisingly well too.

It seems that having fancier desktop environments like GNOME Shell and Cinnamon means having the hardware on which it could run. For a while, I have been tempted by the possibility of a new PC since even my main machine is not far from four years old either. However, I also spied a CPU, motherboard and RAM bundle featuring an Intel Core i5-4670 CPU, 8GB of Corsair Vengence Pro Blue memory and a Gigabyte Z87-HD3 ATX motherboard included as part of a pre-built bundle (with a heatsink and fan for the CPU) for around £420. Even for someone who has used AMD CPU’s since 1998, that does look tempting but I’ll hold off before making any such upgrade decisions. Apart from exercising sensible spending restraint, waiting for Linux UEFI support to mature a little more may be no bad idea either.

Update 2013-06-23: The new graphics card in my main machine is working as it should and has reduced the number of system error report messages turning up too; maybe Ubuntu GNOME 13.04 didn’t fancy the old graphics card all that much. A rogue .fonts.conf file was found in my home area on the standby machine and removing it has improved how fonts are displayed on there immeasurably. If you find one on your system, it’s worth doing the same or renaming it to see if it helps. Otherwise, tinkering with the font rendering settings is another beneficial act and it even helps on Debian 6 too and that uses GNOME 2! Seeing what happens on Debian 7.1 could be something that I go testing sometime.

Getting an Epson Pefection 4490 Photo scanner going with Ubuntu GNOME Remix 12.10

My Epson Perfection 4490 Photo scanner has been in my possession for a while now and its impossible to justify any replacement given that it both works well and digital photography has taken over from its film predecessor for me. Every time I go installing an operating system afresh, I need to reinstate it again and last year’s installation of Ubuntu GNOME Remix 12.04 only saw me do the deed recently. When I did so, it was brought back to me that I’d never gone and documented on here how this was done. Given that I sometimes use this place as a repository of stuff to which I need to refer again in the future, it seemed remiss of me so here it is for you all.

Though I had XSane and SimpleScan already installed on the system, Sane wasn’t on there so I went and added it and a few other extras using the following command:

sudo apt-get install sane sane-utils libsane-extras

Then, it was onto the Epson website for their Perfection 4490 Photo Linux drivers since Sane’s support for this scanner seemingly remains incomplete even though it pre-dates my move to Linux in 2007. Three files were needed and the following commands install them (depending on when you do this, the file names may be different so just change them to whatever they are for you; it can be done with a single command too but there is not enough girth for that here):

sudo dpkg -i iscan-data_1.22.0-1_all.deb
sudo dpkg -i iscan_2.29.1-5~usb0.1.ltdl7_i386.deb
sudo dpkg -i iscan-plugin-gt-x750_2.1.2-1_i386.deb

With those in place, there was one other task that needed doing so that scanning could be done without resorting to running scanning software using sudo privileges. To free up the access to a normal user account, I needed a HAL device information file. These normally are in /usr/share/hal/fdi/ but they change every time an installation so any modifications that you may make are going to be lost. Therefore, there is no point modifying either /usr/share/hal/fdi/preprobe/10osvendor/20-libsane.fdi or /usr/share/hal/fdi/preprobe/10osvendor/20-libsane-extras.fdi where scanner information usually is to be found.

The first task in creating an fdi file was to issue the lsusb command and look for a line corresponding to my scanner. This is the one that I got:

Bus 001 Device 004: ID 04b8:0119 Seiko Epson Corp. Perfection 4490 Photo

From this, I gleaned the manufacturer ID and model ID as 04b8 and 0119, respectively. These are needed later on. Next I needed to create the hal/fdi/preprobe/ folder structure under /etc since it was there. Then, I created epson4490photo.fdi in the bottom folder of the tree (/etc/hal/fdi/preprobe/epson4490photo.fdi) as follows:

cd /etc/hal/fdi/preprobe/ && sudo touch epson4490photo.fdi

Then, I edited the new file using the following command:

gksu gedit epson4490photo.fdi &

When open, I added in the following text:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<deviceinfo version=”0.2″>
<device>
<match key=”info.subsystem” string=”usb”>
<!-- Epson Perfection 4490 Photo -->
<match key=”usb.vendor_id” int=”0x04b8″>
<match key=”usb.product_id” int=”0x0119″>
<append key=”info.capabilities” type=”strlist”>scanner</append>
<merge key=”scanner.access_method” type=”string”>proprietary</merge>
</match>
</match>
</match>
</device>
</deviceinfo>

It’s all in XML so the place to look is immediately beneath the scanner name comment. The int attributes of the two match elements immediately following the comment line are populated using the information from the lsusb command output with 0x prefixing both the manufacturer and model identifiers. The element with a key attribute of usb.vendor_id is the former and that with a key attribute of usb.product_id is the latter. With epson4490photo.fdi saved, I rebooted the machine to restart HAL and all was as I wanted it to be apart maybe from XSane making complaints that seemed not to be of any actual consequence. With Epson’s Image Scan! and Simple Scan on the PC, there’s no need to be bothered with those messages. Choice is good when you have it, especially when you have expended some effort to get that far.

Changing from Nouveau to Nvidia Graphics Drivers on Linux Mint Debian Edition 64-bit

One way of doing this is to go to the Nvidia website and download the latest file from the relevant page on there. Then, the next stage is to restart your PC and choose rescue mode instead of the more usual graphical option. This drops you onto a command shell that is requesting your root password. Once this is done, you can move onto the next stage of the exercise. Migrate to the directory where the *.run file is located and issuing a command similar to the following:

bash NVIDIA-Linux-x86_64-295.40.run

The above was the latest file available at the time of writing so the name may have changed by the time that you read this. If the executable asks to modify your X configuration file, I believe that the best course is to let it do that. Editing it yourself or running nvidia-xconfig are alternative approaches if you so prefer.

Proprietary Nvidia drivers are included the repositories for Linux Mint Debian Edition so that may be a better course of action since you will get updates through normal system update channels. Then, the course of action is to start by issuing the following installation comands:

sudo apt-get install module-assistant
sudo apt-get install nvidia-kernel-common
sudo apt-get install nvidia-glx
sudo apt-get install kernel-source-NVIDIA
sudo apt-get install nvidia-xconfig

Once those have completed, issuing the following in turn will complete the job ahead of a reboot:

sudo m-a a-i nvidia
sudo modprobe nvidia
sudo nvidia-xconfig

If you reboot before running the above like I did, you will get a black screen with a flashing cursor instead of a full desktop because X failed to load. Then, the remedy is to reboot the machine and choose the rescue mode option, provide the root password and issue the three commands (at this point, the sudo prefix can be dropped because it’s unneeded) then. Another reboot will see order restored and the new driver in place. Running the following at that point will do a check on things as will be the general appearance of everything:

glxinfo | grep render

Uninstalling VirtualBox Guest Additions on a Linux Guest OS

Within the last few days, I updated my Linux Mint Debian Edition virtual machine installation to Update 4. Between not following the instructions so closely and problems with the update server, a re-installation preceded the update itself. When all was done, no desktop environment appeared and issuing the startx command revealed that it was one of the VirtualBox drivers that was the cause of the problem. With my being unable to see any files on the VirtualBox virtual CD, something else needed doing and the executing following command (replacing [VboxAddonsFolder] with VBoxGuestAdditions-4.1.12 in my case but it is different for each VirtualBox version) resolved the situation:

/opt/[VboxAddonsFolder]/uninstall.sh

When it was complete, a scrambled desktop began to appear so a reboot was in order to set things to rights. Then, I could set to looking at what Update 4 had brought to Linux Mint Debian Edition.

Getting Gnome Shell going for Fedora 16 running in VirtualBox

There are a number of complaints out there about how hard it is to get GNOME Shell running for a Fedora 16 installation in a VirtualBox virtual machine. As with earlier versions of Fedora, preparation remains a matter of having make, gcc and kernel-devel (kernel headers, in other words). While I have got away with just those, adding dkms (dynamic kernel module support) to the list might be no bad idea either. To get all of those instated, it is a matter of running the following command as root or using sudo:

yum -y install make gcc kernel-devel dkms

The -y switch ensures that any Y/N prompts that usually appear are suppressed and that the installation is completed. Just leave it out if you are inclined to get second thoughts. Another item that has been needed with a previous release of Fedora is libgomp but I haven’t had to add this for Fedora 16 if I remember correctly.

Once those are in place, it is time to install the VirtualBox Guest Additions.  Going to Devices > Install Guest Additions… mounts a virtual CD that can be used for the installation of the various drivers that are needed. To do the installation, first go to where the installer is located using the following command:

cd /media/VBOXADDITIONS_4.1.6_74713/

Note that this location will change according to the release and build numbers of VirtualBox but the process essentially will be the same other than this. Once in there, issue the following command as root or using sudo:

./VBoxLinuxAdditions.run

Hopefully, this will complete without errors now with the precursor software that has been added beforehand. However, there is one more thing that needs doing or you will get the GNOME 3 fallback desktop instead. It pertains to SELinux, an old adversary of mine that got in the way when I was setting up a web server on a machine running Fedora. It doesn’t recognise the new VirtualBox drivers as it should so the following command needs executing as root or using sudo:

restorecon -R -v /opt

Doing this restores the SELinux contexts for the /opt directories within which the VirtualBox software directories are found. The -R switch tells it to act recursively and -v makes it verbose. When it has done its work, hopefully successfully, it is time to reboot the virtual machine and you should have a GNOME Shell desktop interface when you log in.