Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Nvidia 256.35 Driver on Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx

(If you just want installation instructions, skip down to the section labeled 'How to Install It')

I don't normally devote entire blog posts to something as trivial as a driver update. In fact, I usually don't update my proprietary driver blob until Ubuntu updates its packages and pushes them out through the software update tool, but this particular driver update has brought about a couple of major changes (for me) that I thought warranted stepping out of my comfort zone a bit.

These features are:
1.) From Nvidia's website, "Fixed an interaction problem between Compiz and 'screen-scraping' VNC servers like x11vnc and vino [ed.: the VNC server that Ubuntu uses by default] that caused the screen to stop updating."

This bug has been around since Hardy Heron and has been a thorn in my side. The only workarounds were to use a different VNC server (big hassle), constantly close/reopen the VNC connection to manually refresh (even bigger hassle), or switch to metacity instead of Compiz whenever you want remote access (not a huge hassle, but still inconvenient).

2.) The driver now supports overscan compensation (via a slide-control in the nvidia-settings application) for displays that have overscan issues, though this isn't mentioned in the changelog specifically.

This feature has been in the Windows driver control (and the Linux Catalyst driver for ATI users) for a very long time, but it is new for the Linux Nvidia driver and solves another long-standing issue for me. Now, I no longer need to cover the screen edges with transparent GNOME panels to keep new windows from drawing offscreen or worry about toolbars getting chopped off of fullscreen applications. W00t! (Edit: overscan compensation has been in the driver since Karmic, but it never showed up for my specific card until this latest driver).

The new driver also includes a host of new VDPAU improvements, which always a good thing.

How to Install It

Update (7/27/10): If you don't feel like doing all of the steps I have laid out, there's a handy PPA provided by the same cats who package the standard Ubuntu graphics drivers that has a package for the 256.35 driver. You can find it here. Whether you use the PPA or my steps, the Bonus sections below are still applicable and handy.

I have an Nvidia 8600 GT graphics card and, when I first tried to install the driver, I followed the procedure that has always worked in the past of simply downloading the installer, dropping down to console, and running the installer. However, when I tried that, the installer failed with the error "THE DISTRIBUTION-PROVIDED PRE-INSTALL SCRIPT FAILED." Others have apparently also gotten another error, which I will include here for search engine purposes: "Error: Unable to load the kernel module 'nvidia.ko'. This happens most frequently when this kernel was built against the wrong or improperly configured kernel sources, with a version of gcc that differs from the one used to build the target kernel, or if a driver such as rivafb/nvidiafb is present and prevents the NVIDIA kernel module from obtaining ownership of the NVIDIA graphics device(s), or NVIDIA GPU installed in this system is not supported by this NVIDIA Linux graphics driver release."

In either event, these steps should clear things up:

1.) First, we'll gather some resources: download the driver from Nvidia's website and put it somewhere, such as your Home directory. Then, open a terminal and type:
sudo aptitude install linux-headers-`uname -r` build-essential nvidia-settings
2.) Now, we need to get rid of some modules that conflict with our soon-to-be-installed proprietary driver. So, in a terminal, type:
sudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf
Scroll down to the bottom and copypasta these lines:
# Allows proprietary Nvidia driver to install
blacklist vga16fb
blacklist nouveau
blacklist rivafb
blacklist nvidiafb
blacklist rivatv
Save and exit.

3.) Next, we need to clear out any previously installed Nvidia drivers, so (still in a terminal) type:
sudo apt-get remove --purge nvidia-*
4.) Reboot and, when the error window pops up saying Ubuntu can't load drivers blah, blah, blah, choose to 'Exit to console,' and it should dump you down to a command prompt. Login and navigate to the directory where you put your Nvidia driver installer from Step 1 (if you put it in your Home directory, you should already be there upon login).

5.) Start the Nvidia driver installer by typing (hint: you can use the TAB key to autocomplete instead of using the * wildcard character):
sudo sh NVIDIA-*
When it asks if you want it to automatically configure things, select 'yes' and it will auto-generate an xorg.conf file with the appropriate fields.

Reboot again and everything should be hunky dory (if not, and your installation still poops out, scroll down to the bottom of the post for some more things you can try).

Bonus Points

Unfortunately, if you install the driver this way, each time a new kernel update comes down the pipe, your Nvidia driver will stop working and have to be reinstalled, which can be a big bummer. However, you can set up a script that will run anytime the driver needs to be reinstalled:

1.) First, we'll move our Nvidia driver installer to a safe location. In a terminal, navigate to wherever it is and type (again, use TAB to autocomplete instead of the wildcard):
sudo mv NVIDIA-* /usr/src
2.) Next, we want to make a symlink (kinda like a more powerful shortcut) to the installer so our script won't need to be rewritten any time a new Nvidia driver comes out. In a terminal, type:
sudo ln -s /usr/src/NVIDIA-* /usr/src/nvidia-driver
Now, since our script will reference the 'nvidia-driver' symlink we can just overwrite the old driver and make a new symlink using the same name if there's a driver update.

3.) Now for the script itself. Open a text editor and, in a new file, copypasta this:

# Set this to the exact path of the nvidia driver you plan to use
# It is recommended to use a symlink here so that this script doesn't
# have to be modified when you change driver versions.

# Build new driver if it doesn't exist
if [ -e /lib/modules/$1/kernel/drivers/video/nvidia.ko ] ; then
echo "NVIDIA driver already exists for this kernel." >&2
echo "Building NVIDIA driver for kernel $1" >&2
sh $DRIVER -K -k $1 -s -n 2>1 > /dev/null

if [ -e /lib/modules/$1/kernel/drivers/video/nvidia.ko ] ; then
echo " SUCCESS: Driver installed for kernel $1" >&2
echo " FAILURE: See /var/log/nvidia-installer.log" >&2

exit 0

Save the file with the name update-nvidia and exit the text editor.

4.) Now, we want to make our script executable, so, in a terminal, navigate to wherever you made your script and type:
chmod a+x update-nvidia
5.) Finally, we need to install it. Still in your terminal from the last command, type:
sudo mkdir -p /etc/kernel/postinst.d ; sudo install update-nvidia /etc/kernel/postinst.d
Now, you should be all set. Whenever you install a new kernel, this script should kick in and install the Nvidia driver for you.

Even More Bonus Points

Now that we've got our driver installed and ready to update itself, we should consider our power consumption! Usually, the Nvidia driver will default to a power profile that always leaves your card running full-tilt, which sucks battery life and raises your utility bill. Thankfully, there's something we can do about it.

Open up a terminal and type:
sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf
This will get us into the auto-generated configuration file created by the driver installer.

Scroll down to the Nvidia driver section (you can tell it's the right section because it will be labeled 'Device,' the 'Vendor' field will say 'Nvidia,' and the 'Driver' field will say 'nvidia') and add these three lines:
Option "RegistryDwords" "PowerMizerEnable=0x1; PerfLevelSrc=0x3333"
Option "Coolbits" "1"
Option "OnDemandVBlankInterrupts" "True"
Save the file and exit.

In the first line, the PowerMizerEnable switch tells the driver that we're interested in using the dynamic clocking features (this switch may not be entirely necessary, as PowerMizer is supposed to be enabled by default, but it can't hurt anything and may be required for some cards/cases), while the PerfLevelSrc field tells it which performance level we want to use. The 0x3333 setting means we want dynamic, on-demand clocking for both battery and AC power.

The second option we added enables the 'Coolbits' feature, which lets us manually control the clock and memory speeds on our card via the nvidia-settings application.

The third option enables a checkbox in the nvidia-settings application to allow or disallow vBlank interrupts. Allowing them (checking the box) reduces the number of wakeups from idle, and thus reduces power consumption somewhat.

Now, in my case (8600 GT), there is only one performance level and dynamic clocking does nothing (you can find out your performance levels by typing in a terminal: nvidia-settings -q GPUPerfModes -t). This really stinks, since I do all of my gaming in Windows and all I really need my video card for in Ubuntu is compositing and fancy desktop effects. With this in mind, I used the Coolbits option via the nvidia-settings application to drastically underclock my card. It now runs at approximately 150 mhz on the core clock and 180 mhz on the memory, which generates far less heat and uses way less power than before. Compiz still looks great and has no performance issues, even while playing HD video, rotating the desktop cube with 3D windows, etc.

If Installer Still Fails
(I didn't have these problems, so I didn't try these instructions myself. They are only here in case you need them)

So, if the above instructions didn't work, we still have some things we can try:

1.) Drop back down to the command line (by pressing Alt+F1), login and type:
sudo gdm-stop
and then
sudo apt-get remove --purge xserver-xorg-video-nouveau
2.) Now, we need to fiddle with some blacklisted framebuffer stuff, so type:
sudo nano /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist-framebuffer.conf
Once in, we need to comment out (put a # in front of) blacklist vesafb and add a new line that says:
blacklist vgafb16
Save and exit (hit ctrl+x).

3.) Now, type:
sudo nano /etc/initramfs-tools/modules
Scroll down to the bottom and add these two lines:
Save and exit, then update the initramfs by typing:
sudo update-initramfs -u
4.) Now, we need to tell grub about our framebuffer, so type:
sudo nano /etc/default/grub
Once in, search (ctrl+w) for GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX= and add either vga=771 or vga=795 (which one you'll add depends on your resolution, so for now, just pick one). Save and exit, then update grub by typing:
sudo update-grub
If things are messed up, you can redo the above step using the other vga value to hopefully correct things.

Now, once you reboot, you should be able to pick back up from Step 4 in the original instructions and install the Nvidia driver normally without any further errors.

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