Driver Hell: ATI Radeon and Ubuntu

I recently decided to upgrade my Ubuntu to Lucid Lynx. Previous release worked just fine, so I was very optimistic about the move.

When it booted, I noticed that the fan on my graphics card (ATI Radeon HD 4850) became pretty loud. And louder every minute. After 30 minutes of cursing and googling, I found out that there is an issue in open source drivers. Basically, the GPU is overheating, some even suggested it may get damaged.

Solution 1: If the kernel had KMS (whatever that is), it could work. It will be a part of 2.6.34 kernel, just a minute. Oops, the current kernel in Lucid is 2.6.32. But if you add this boot switch, you will disable some features and it may resolve your problem. The whole idea and explanation is flawed in so many places that I dumped it.

Solution 2: Install drivers from ATI. Get them from their website, start the installer and enjoy. Finally the fan became silent, but also X became very slow with no hardware acceleration. Scan of logs revealed that there is a conflict or unresolved dependency between proprietary and open source drivers.

At this point I became pretty desperate. I wanted to use this system and my time to do something productive, not waste hours on fighting driver issues. That said, I did follow some aggressive solutions. Here’s what finally worked:

  • Reinstall xserver-xorg-core – added or fixed the DRI module that the proprietary driver was missing.
  • That created a conflict that broke down aptitude. Due to an a dependency issue it was impossible to perform an upgrade or use aptitude or dpkg in any other way. I decided to ignore it for the moment.
  • After reboot my graphics driver was unusable again. Apparently I broke something down trying to fix apt.
  • I uninstalled ATI driver using their shell script (apt was still broken).
  • I created a .deb package for Ubuntu/lucid. Installing it, I told it to replace all Ubuntu fglrx packages. That seemed to resolve the conflict apt was complaining about. It seems executable installer did not do it.
  • Graphics driver was still broken and aticonfig was not installed. So I ran the same installer from ATI again (this time directly from the downloaded executable, NOT .deb). It installed aticonfig etc.

Now it seems to work. I did not give up only because I’m a Linux enthusiast unable to work in Windoze. But I am hugely disappointed because not being a complete newbie I wasted hours on this issue. Open source driver is unusable, one dependency was fixed by reinstalling xserver, another by installing proprietary driver twice (once to override open-source packages, then to install what was missing from debs)…

Man, it’s a mess. Stop cheating yourself. There’s no way Linux is going to make it into broad consumer market when even power users are having so many issues. Give up on the shiny fancy features and fix the fundamental flaws first. You wouldn’t buy a car with the best sound system if the engine was broken, would you?

7 thoughts on “Driver Hell: ATI Radeon and Ubuntu

  1. I agree with you all the way! I’ve been saying the same thing. Fundamentals like proper graphic drivers will make or break Linux. I suspect that gaming with the same game in Windows & Linux will result in better performance in Windows!

  2. “Install drivers from ATI. Get them from their website, start the installer and enjoy.”

    There’s your problem. Go to System > Admin > Hardware Drivers and install the fglrx drivers included in the repository.

    (the main issue is that you didn’t uninstall your previous driver before installing the proprietary one)

  3. The way I see it this is not so much an issue on the Ubuntu dev side this is ATI providing shitty drivers and support for linux. The Nvidia drivers have been stable and user friendly for years

  4. Wait until two years down the line and your card stops being supported in the ATi proprietary driver. You’ll be shafted, while Windows users will be able to carry on using the older driver. This is because of Ubuntu’s BiAnnualForcedDeathMarch?, plus and Linux not having stable ABIs.

    When (not if, when) it happens, don’t listen to Freetards who’ll try to tell you it’s ATi’s fault, or your fault for buying the wrong card, it’s Ubuntu/Linux’s fault for not having a stable ABI.

    Every time this comes up Freetards whinge, moan and write long diatribes about why having a stable ABI is going to cause the end of the world. The reality is, of course, that FLOSS is just a fun project they do for the lulz, it works the way they want it to, not the way you need it to.

    Also, notice how many Freetards will point you to Nvidia cards, mentioning how great their drivers are, carefully ignoring the double-standard of advocating for Free software while recommending the only company that refuse to publish any specs or help with a Free software driver effort for their products.

    To balance your anecdote out, my Radeon X600 is working considerably better in 10.04: dual-monitors working out of the box (I never thought this would be fixed, ever) and the open source drivers have improved to the point where it’s possible to play an ancient copy of Colin McCrae Rally, yay, it’s only six years old!

    Thanks for the tip on the overheating issue and good luck for when the proprietary drivers stop supporting your card.

  5. HI, I am having problems installing the ATI driver for my ATI Radeo x1650, it tells me that it does not support my kernel version, but I’m installing it on Lucid, so it should be fine, right?

  6. George, it seems that the latest proprietary driver for your card is from 2009, for xserver 7.4. You may be unable to use it with newer Ubuntu as apparently ATI no longer supports it.

    Just what others have pointed out (thanks Ken!).

  7. These kinds of problems made me switch to a Mac. After using Linux for almost 15 years I decided life is just too short for me to have to deal with these sorts of issues or write my own drivers for unsupported hardware.

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