Nouveau: The Libré nVidia Drivers

Kasım 6, 2009 at 11:00 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

The latest nVidia driver update (IIRC 190.42) came with a plethora of problems (at least for me). I have an nVidia GeForce 9200M GS graphics card and we were getting along quite well until the aformentioned update. X started crashing every minute. This led me to try something new: Nouveau.

The nouveau project aims to build high-quality, open source drivers for nVidia cards.

Since I always root for replacing proprietary stuff with their F/LOSS alternatives, this was the perfect chance for me. ArchWiki describes how to install and set the driver to load with kernel (i.e. KMS).

There were a couple of features I was looking for and here’s how everything turned out:

  • First I started with the video playback. Under SMPlayer’s preferences I found a new output driver: xv (0 – Nouveau GeForce 8/9 Textured Video). This is what worked for me. Now that I had image, let’s get a little rough: I opened Sita Sings the Blues, and mind you this video has 1920×1080 pixels (1080p for short). VLC did a great job playing the file (SMPlayer couldn’t play this one with nVidia drivers, either). So, check!

  • The chronological first step is KMS, of course. KMS stands for kernel modesetting:

Currently, most graphics modes are initialized during the X server startup. Kernel Modesetting (referred to as KMS hereafter) moves this process from the X server’s DDX drivers to the kernel.

This means a seamless transition between console and X server, and also a seamless transition between virtual terminals. The Fedora page also indicates that KMS means graphical error messages and a prettier graphical boot but those don’t interest me. I set up KMS following the wiki and with a reboot I had a pretty console and seamless transitions. So, check!

  • Another important thing for me is XMoto. I love it, I play it all the time. Lucky for me the game is based on SDL and it doesn’t need 3D graphics. The game mostly works well, but for a couple of levels the graphics slow down. This is not a very big issue since there is the “Ugly Mode” for those occasions🙂 So, check!

  • Every now and then I do presentations so external devices must work. Since I don’t own a projector, I tried it with my old 15″ monitor. As soon as I plugged in the device I could see it on display settings under KDE’s System Settings. I configured the resolution, the color depth and I was good to go. So, check!
  • The last thing was, and this was a bonus for me, power consumption. I haven’t timed the drivers yet but there’s something that can give you a clue. With nVidia drivers, my battery never reaches %100, it’s charged to %97-98 and stays there. With Nouveau drivers the battery can be fully charged and stays that way. So, bonus check!

All in all, it’s been a great experience so far. Since I don’t use any composite managers (like Compiz or KWin), I don’t need the card’s 3D capabilities. And as far as the 2D performance goes, it’s working perfectly. Great job Nouveau developers and keep it coming!

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