Saturday, September 24, 2011

The problems with nvidia graphic cards made with nvidia optimus technology in Linux distributions!


The problems with nvidia graphic cards made with nvidia optimus technology in Linux distributions!

 I recently bought a Acer 4750G laptop for my studies and for entertaintment of course! This laptop came with a nvidia GT540M GPU with nvidia optimus technology. This laptop has a second generation core i5 2410M processor. So it comes with a Intel HD3000 GPU too. Nvidia GPU is made for hardcore gaming and to manage HD content. While intel gpu is too capable of that nvidia does it better. You get what I mean right? 

What is nvidia optimus technology?

Laptops are made for portability.n So always product companies try to get best results with the battery life. Intel HD gpu consumes a little power and nvidia gpu consumes a lot of power. So always working with the nvidia gpu makes battery life to be weaker. So what this optimus technology does is switching two gpus when they want.

Working on documents, excel sheets – changes gpu to intel HD3000
Gaming – changes gpu to nvidia
HD video – changes gpu to nvidia
Operating system – changes gpu to intel HD3000

Conflicts with Linux systems

This is a great technology indeed. But the issue is this technology is not very well working with Linux distributions. Nvidia officials have said they have no idea to develop this software to linux distributions too. So what will happen will be both gpus will work when you boot with linux. Result will be a small battery life. Some laptops wont boot even. In my laptop Acer 4750G I tried to install linux ubuntu 11.04 natty narwhal but it doesn’t  gave me the chance to boot even to the install page. It gave me only a black screen. I waited about 30 minutes but nothing happened. This has happened to lot of people who bought laptops with nvidia optimus technology. By the way this technology works with windows 7 like a charm. I managed to code C++ in CodeBlocks software about 5 hours and 30 minutes with lowered brightness.
I checked some linux distributions with this laptop and results are –
Ubuntu 11.04 natty narwhal – Didn’t boot even. But managed to work with installed via WUBI and survived C++ coding in standard g++ compiler via terminal for about 3 hours..

Ubuntu 10.04 lucid lynx – Installed successfully. Initially gave me only a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. Then installed nvidia official linux driver and got the desired 1366 x 768 pixel resolution. ( its not a driver for optimus, but a driver to work that gpu with linux systems)

Linux arch ( kernel version – 3.0.3 ) – installed successfully.. when I installed gnome 3 gui in it all went to a black screen.  I think it can be corrected. As I’m not a genius in linux command line interface and linux arch I couldn’t get it worked yet. Big reason to worry. But I’ll do it in next week and update this post how to :)

I couldn’t check this with fedora or any other version as I couldn’t find any of them. If one of you have checked them with a nvidia optimus enabled computer please let us know. Do a comment explaining it. Thanks :)

Solutions for these problems!
Currently there are some solutions. One of them is Bumblebee for linux. And other way is switching off nvidia card manually, in the second way you wont get the optimus technology worked. But in bumblebee thing you will get it worked. As bumblebee is a beta testing software you can’t be assured of 100% stability. But it worth give a try. I didn’t installed bumblebee as I don’t need nvidia in linux as I don’t use linux for gaming. So simply switched it off.

Information about bumblebee and how to use it – Link
How to disable nvidia and other facts – official link


    This is indeed a great technology but sadly not for dual gpu systems. There are some laptops which we can choose what gpu to be enabled. In such laptops we have no issues. So if you are willing to use linux as a primary operating system and you depend on gui, afraid to deal with command line interface actions, I suggest you to move away from dual gpu systems. Or you can wait for till better solution comes or find a laptop with bios switch to enable one single gpu. That’s it… See ya later :D


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