Use nv, not nvidia drivers -> Save the headache

As the majority of BSD/Linux users, I use X.org for my X Window System.  I have a preference to edit my own xorg.conf to ensure that X runs properly on any of my system.  To this date, I have never failed to get X configured.  It is actually not that difficult.  Today, distros such as Debian Lenny, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Sabayon, to name a few, can automatically create a working xorg.conf for users during installs.  With the distros like Gentoo and Arch Linux, users are required to configure their own xorg.conf.  Regardless of the configuration type you choose, you are eventually going to have to choose whether you want to use a propriety driver or open source driver.  This can be a nightmare in itself if you are not careful.

Regardless of which distro I use, I have a preference to start out with the open source drivers.  vesa is a common open source driver that I tend to start out with.  It ends to work with most video cards.  On my desktop, I have an Nvidia card so I decided to use the nv open source driver.  Both vesa and nv work on my desktop.

I decided to try the nvidia driver on my Arch Linux desktop.  Arch has a good wiki to get nvidia with 3D rendering to work. I got it to work and was quite happy, for about a month at least.  So what happened?

The nvidia drivers, like it’s propriety counterpart, ati, have a tendency to break.  For some computer users, it breaks a lot.  With Gentoo, I never install the latest nvidia drivers.  It breaks X forcing me to either revert to an older driver or switch to nv or vesa.  With Arch, an update to the Gnome desktop broke X with the cause attributed to my nvidia driver.  In Ubuntu, yes Ubuntu systems do break, an update to the kernel caused X to break as well.  In PC-BSD, I was forced to rebuild X.Org.  In all cases, I was either using the nvidia or ati propriety drivers.

When X broke earlier this week on my Arch system, I first had to find out what was the culprit (I mentioned above that I upgraded my Gnome desktop).  X was working but I was getting a low resolution with the nvidia drivers.  It did not matter if I set the Modes to reflect the resolution of my monitor, the lower resolution remained default.

Finally I decided to switch to vesa and the higher resolution (1440X900) returned.  I made some more configurations to xorg.conf and I got the open source nvidia drivers, nv, to work at the higher resolution as well.  The nvidia driver still do not work.  No problem, I will not use them on my desktop again, I will stick to open source drivers which, from my experience, have never broke on me.  Save the headache, stick with nv 🙂

I am eagerly waiting for an open source graphics card.  There is one available but the price is quite expensive, $1500 US, higher than many custom-built desktops!  Prices should drop in the future though.

Edit: This is a blog posting, not a news article, Beginner Howto, etc.  The above posting mentioned that I preferred to use open source drivers on my DESKTOP, it does not mention that I use them on my other laptops and systems.  I am also not denying anyone’s RIGHT to use propriety drivers, I use them as well.

See my latest blog posting and response to ‘Two New Software Freedoms’.

  • KimTjik

    I belong to the group of folks that never have had any issues using Nvidia proprietary drivers. On the other hand I’ve got other reasons to consider a switch to ATi: Nvidia has made it quite clear that they’re not interested in helping the open-source community like AMD now is doing. Results are evident: for an AMD/ATi card you’ve got several constantly progressing alternatives, but for Nvidia you got… nv with support for… only 2D. OK we’ve got Nouveau but who knows when it will be released, and we can just image the amount of work it means to develop, reverse-engineer, it without any help from Nvidia.

    I’m an Archer as well – several systems and the only time I’ve lost 3D capability was on a computer with a ATi agp card when it took about 2 releases for ATi to fix a bug that caused agp cards to loose 3D acceleration – but since your article is distro agnostic let’s forget about that. I’m more interested in what hardware you’re using. Can you describe your system specifications? That would give your article more substance and help in diagnose the cause. A simply “use nv instead” doesn’t help since few desktop users would be very happy to live with its limitations.

  • Chris Lees

    I’ve never had the nvidia driver completely break X, but it crashes X like there’s no tomorrow. One minute I’ll be working, the next, I get the Nvidia logo flicking on and off the screen. I have to REBOOT. No such problems even on nv.

    And before that, Nvidia’s proprietary drivers were causing all my videos to look yellow. They fixed it for my card, and introduced the problem for a bunch of other cards. There is a workaround – change the video output module for your video player to something different. But this idea sucks; I shouldnt’ have to do that. Switching back to nv caused my videos to work perfectly on any video output module.

    Before that, I was getting kernel panics. I didn’t even need to try the nv driver to know what was causing the problem; my kernel logs were telling me.

  • I forgot to link an earlier posting about my Linux system: https://saigonnezumi.com/2008/01/09/building-a-new-pc-bsd-system/

    I am using the Gigabyte GeForce 7300GT 16X, 256DDR2, 128B Graphics Card. Works very well most of the time with nvidia. At times, it will revert back to a lower resolution forcing me to switch to vesa and nv.

    Right now I am using the nvidia drivers with my preferred resolution. What changes did I make, absolutely nothing. Maybe the gremlins inside my desktop are creating the problem.

  • Jeffrey B

    I use /nvidia-driver/ “nvidia” rather than “nv” in
    xorg.conf, everything runs smoothly (2d at least)
    upon exiting X “,aborting!” shows in bold, so
    I don’t really know if I am running nv or
    nvidia…

  • @Jeffrey: If xorg.conf says:

    Section “Device”
    Identifier “Device0”
    Driver “nvidia”
    VendorName “NVIDIA Corporation”
    EndSection

    then you are running the nvidia drivers which I am now.

  • bob

    It’s most likely user error. Or you’re using a distro that hacks on it’s Kernel and Xorg. Use a vanilla Kernel and an un hacked to bits Xorg, you’ll have no issues.

    The nVidia driver is tied to at least 2 things. The Kernel and Xorg. If you update either of these, you need to reinstall the driver.

    If the person knows what their doing, and actually R’s-TFM you won’t have an issue.

    BTW, if the nVidia closed source driver is so bad — who do you think wrote the open source nv 2d driver?

    Happy nVidia binary driver user for over 6 years here.

    There’s a reason professional render farms use Linux and nVidia, plus demand the proprietary driver. I’d advise you to do some real research on why this so called breakage occurs.

    It’s either YOUR fault, or the fault of using a distro that doesn’t have a clue. Both Arch and Ubuntu fit that catagory. Just take a peak at how hacked to bits their Kernel and Xorg are. 35,000 lines of patches on Arch’s Kernel alone.

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