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Another update on the Mint / N53SV adventure

February 6, 2011

So – an update in this little adventure of mine. It seems that the ordeal of getting the nVidia GT 540M on board the N53SV working is going to be trickier than I was hoping.

It seem that the issue is that the Optimus switching technology on-board this new processor is mostly at the software level, and is HEAVILY coupled to Windows 7 (and maybe Vista, I forget). This operating system has some technology whereby you can, while running, switch which graphics card you are using (assuming you have two installed), so the Optimus technology takes advantage of this in order to allow for switching between the nVidia card and the CPU integrated graphics. And the way it works is that the GPU actually pipes everything through the CPU graphics, and does so entirely based off of whether or not the graphics processing going on is heavy duty enough to warrant the GPU. This is what allows the Optimus to quickly switch between the GPU and the iGPU as needed.

Cool technology, really, only that it is hopelessly tethered to Windows. This means that getting it working on Linux would require a huge undertaking of rewriting large chunks of Linux base code (I forget at which levels – I think in Xorg and kernel). This is why nVidia is pretty much refusing to work on Linux support – it’s really a huge job. And apparently, just coding in a switch so that the GPU is just always on is not so simple as a result of all of the complications in the Optimus architecture. I’m not sure why, but from what I understand that is just he simple fact of the matter.

There is, however, some bit of hope in the form of a switchable graphics Linux group. They seem to be making good progress on several switching mechanisms, but the Optimus does seem to pose significant difficulties. Some progress has been made here, but I have yet to be able to test that out myself. Right now, my system is mostly stable, and since I need it that way for development, I am reluctant to start messing around too much, at least just yet (see later).

As it stands, I went ahead and followed some advice in this post by buzz and installed some packages that should have enabled my Sandy Bridge integrated graphics card, but I’m not so sure that it has worked out for me. I seem to have gotten performance in the handling of the windowing system (fewer random crashes and such overall), but other weird things have happened. Before going through buzz’s steps, my Matrix3D OpenGL screensaver was working just fine, but now it crashes the computer. It took me a while to figure out what was going on and why the computer was crashing whenever I left it alone for a while, but the diagnosis was sealed when a) I went to the screensaver settings to see if something was up there and the screensaver preview crashed the system; and b) I shut down the screensaver form the command line and have since been able to have a pretty stable system (only one crash after a couple days of being on, running upwards of 60 or 70 tabs in Firefox 4 groups, virtual machines, text editors, Songbird,… – are you getting a sense now for why I wanted a Quad core with crap tons of memory?).

Other weirdness is that now the hibernate functionality, which was kind of working before, now seems not to work at all, despite having tried out the fix here. The problem is that I didn’t do as much testing as I should have before trying to also get the Sandy Bridge graphics activated, so I’m not sure if the USB3 “fix” actually worked or not, or whether there was something that I missed with it.

In short, my system is viable for development at the moment [<ruby-set-up-sidenote> after futzing with my rvm setup, and realizing that I didn’t have openssl and readline set up as rvm packages (as apposed to just system packages) and then also realizing that uninstalling and reinstalling each of the ruby installations is not enough – each one has to be removed, so that all the configuration headers (or whatever) are reset to point to the same place as the actual packages – GOTCHA <end-sidenote>].

In order to get things running more smoothly, and help contribute to the testing of solutions attempting to deal with all of the issues I’m facing, I want to set up another partition with a fresh Linux installation (still debating about whether to create a shared home, shared media (as in video and audio) partition or what) that I can play with without having to worry about wrecking my SSD (sufficiently stable for development) environment.

Once I get this done, I’m gonna really start having at it and probing out all of these issues. I’m kind of excited to roll up my sleeves and pick up some new skills in this process. The moral of this story is that though Linux has definitely gotten much better since the last time (5 or 6 years ago) I tried working with it, it is still important to do some research regarding compatibility issues before buying a computer with the intent of putting Linux on it as a primary operating system. With versions like Mint, it seems that there is support for most of everything you need, but there are still brand spanking new technologies that come out and throw everyone for a loop – so don’t get stuck!

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2 Comments
  1. Good work on this article.
    I have exactly the same issue as you do.
    Always trusted nvidia and didnt even think about this kinda mess, makes me feel like a fool.
    So i am stuck with a 1000 dollar laptop and no gpu on linux :S
    Ill keep track of ur posts and support whatever development there is.

    🙂

  2. Thanks – glad that you’ve found it useful. You may not be in as bad a situation as you thought – check the Switchable Graphics Group. I heard that they have been making some good progress with optimus – https://launchpad.net/~hybrid-graphics-linux. I don’t have much of a need to look into this anymore, but I would like to hear what the latest is and what you find out. So good luck!

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