Recently I finally got enough hardware together to build a new computer that will be used to test all the latest games and windows software on. When I built the new machine that meant I had my old main machine to do something with.
So I took my old main machine and thought I would stick Ubuntu 8.10 on that and replace my third machine I had that was a dual boot ubuntu / xp machine. I figured when I replaced this third machine with what used to be my main machine that Ubuntu 8.10 would really like the hardware since it was a AMD X2 4800 cpu with 2 gigs of ram and a geforce 7950 512 meg video card.
One thing I have noticed over the last few years with Ubuntu is people have always mentioned how much better Nvidia graphics cards were then ATI cards when it comes to how they worked on Linux. So I got the Ubuntu 8.10 live CD on the machine and loaded that up and was amazed to see that Ubuntu had put my monitor resolution to 800 by 600. Keep in mind when it did this I had a friend here that I was just telling how good Ubuntu was.
I rebooted the machine and went through all the boot options I could on the live CD that had to do with video and nothing would solve the resolution problem. So while sitting at the desktop I decided to try the “Hardware Drivers” option under the administration menu and it managed to find the Nvidia video card driver and I installed that. Knowing this was a live CD and as soon as I reboot the computer I would lose everything I decided to use the Ctrl-ALT-Backspace option to reboot just the desktop and not the machine. I crossed my fingers and hoped that this would work and I would finally get a normal resolution so I could install Ubuntu 8.10. When the desktop came back after the reboot all was fixed in terms of the video resolution and I was able to do the install to hard disk.
The reason this was such a problem having the 800 by 600 resolution was due to the install screens for the installer. Some of the Install screens have a lot of information on them and are quite long. If you have a resolution of 800 by 600 sometimes you won’t even see the OK or Cancel buttons on some of the dialog boxes and this is a problem when you’re trying to install something.
I have seen this video resolution problem before on other distributions I have tried and to say this is frustrating is truly an understatement. Most new Ubuntu users out there would have just tossed the Ubuntu CD in the garbage if they run across this video problem because they wouldn’t have a clue on how to fix it.
What really annoys me about this is I had a Geforce 7950 Video card and this is hardly a new video card in fact it’s a couple years old now. I would have thought by now that pretty much all the Nvidia cards would be detected properly by any distribution / live CD out there but I guess that’s clearly not the case.
I really think there needs to be a lot more effort put into the whole video detection part of these distributions so end users don’t have to put up with such annoying video problems. These problems need to be fixed because it really does tarnish the image of the distribution if it can’t even detect your video card / monitor properly. The other annoying thing about this is why does it limit the resolution to 800 by 600 why not 1024 by 768? On the other end of the scale I have seen distributions do the exact opposite where instead of locking your resolution down to 800 by 600 they pick the highest resolution the monitor has and that’s no good either.
So after finally getting the video sorted out so I could install the live CD I was thinking this would be end of my problems but I was wrong. After the install of Ubuntu 8.10 I updated the machine with updates for Ubuntu 8.10 and also installed the software I use. It was at this point I had to do a reboot of the computer so I watched as the computer shut down except it didn’t shut down right away. I sat there for about 3 minutes watching the cursor blink on a black screen before the computer finally did the reboot.
After seeing the delay on the shutdown I decided to shut the computer down again just to see if that delay would still be there and sure enough it was. The more I had to shut the computer down the more this delay problem was getting on my nerves. So I finally had enough and went to Google to find some answers. After a quick search I managed to find a forum post where a few other people were having this same problem and it was to do with Alsa-Utils. The solution was to edit the Alsa-Utils file and add two commands to the file at a certain place. After adding these two commands the delay on system shut down or reboot had vanished.
Like the video problem mentioned above I was not impressed with such an annoying problem and what made it worse was how easy it was to fix. The first question that comes to mind was don’t they test these Live CD’s before they release them? I noticed a few days after I had fixed the problem that the Ubuntu guys also corrected the problem in a patch that I downloaded. I think you got one time to make a first impression and clearly for me this version of Ubuntu didn’t impress me at all.
Another strange thing I noticed with this version of Ubuntu is massive video corruption on shutdown. I shut the computer down a few times and my video display went all screwy on me. This video corruption doesn’t seem to stop the shut from taking place but it isn’t very nice to look at. I have seen this video corruption now on both the laptop and the desktop system that’s running Ubuntu 8.10.
This brings me to last night, I just recently went out and purchased a Lenovo SL400 laptop that I want to use for recording the sound tracks I do for the videos I have up on YouTube. When I got the laptop one of the selling points was it comes loaded with XP PRO. All the other laptops I looked at all come with vista and I didn’t want the head ache of dealing with that so I got the Lenovo with XP PRO instead. Along with the laptop I also purchased an M-Audio Fasttrack PRO which is a USB interface that you use for recording Audio to a computer.
One of the other selling points about the laptop was the fact it didn’t have a lot of crapware installed on it. So the laptop finally shows up the other day and the first thing I did after bootup was to hit Ctrl - Alt - Delete to see what was loaded up on the laptop. When the task manager showed up I was shocked to see that the laptop had 65 processes running on it. Just to give you an idea of how bad this is, on my main XP machine that I just built after bootup I have 27 processes running. I nearly had a heart attack at least four or five times when I seen the 65 processes.
I was so shocked by how much crap was running on the laptop I was going to reformat it and start from scratch. The only thing stopping me from doing the format was I didn’t have the drivers and all the stuff together for the laptop to do the install of XP PRO again. So while I was sitting here in discuss about the crap on the laptop a light bulb went off in my head and I grabbed the Ubuntu 8.10 CD. For years now I have been hearing about how fussy some of these distributions can be in terms of laptop hardware but I was still hoping Ubuntu 8.10 would work. The laptop does have an Intel chipset and I have heard that if you have one of these that a lot of the stuff should work with no problems.
So I fire the Ubuntu 8.10 disk into the laptop drive and watch as it boots up. The first thing I notice is Ubuntu 8.10 detects the laptop display properly and gets the resolution right. The next thing I hear is the sound you hear when Ubuntu boots and so I was happy about that. I decided to give the wireless access a shot and sure enough even that worked. I was really impressed that all the major parts of the laptop were working with no issues. I was just about to go ahead with the install to hard disk option on the live CD when a buddy of mine mentioned I better try the M-audio fasttrack pro with Ubuntu and see if that works before I wipe out windows.
So I plug the M-audio interface in and can see it being detected but without having access to audacity I couldn’t really tell if it was working right or not. I tried to set the repos up so I could download Audacity but for whatever reason that wasn’t working so I couldn’t test the M-audio interface out fully. So it was at this point in time I decided to hook the M-audio interface to my AMD desktop machine that was running Ubuntu8.10 and did have audacity and it was here I realized I would not be installing Ubuntu 8.10 on the laptop.
As it turns out the M-audio fasttrack pro is not supported by the Alsa sound system and that would begin to explain some of the strange problems I had when trying to use the M-audio interface in Audacity under Ubuntu 8.10. The first problem I noticed with the M-audio interface was I could record at 44.1 khz but if I went to 48 khz the audio would play back faster than it should, aka chipmunk style. I decided to reboot with the computer with the M-audio interface still plugged into to the USB port and when I tried Audacity after the reboot the audio was just all loud static sounding.
I did look around a bit on Google and several people on there had the same or similar issues with the M-audio fasttrack pro. After seeing other people have nothing but problems with the M-audio fasttrack pro I decided to scrap the idea of Ubuntu 8.10 being installed onto the laptop.
As much as I would like to jump on Ubuntu for the M-audio interface not working the problem really isn’t with them and in this case it’s with M-audio. I checked the M-audio web site out to see if they had any Linux versions of the driver for the M-audio fasttrack pro and to no surprise from as far as I could tell they don’t support Linux at all, aka they don’t have a single Linux driver on their web site.
I was going to leave this article as is but I decided the other night to go ahead and install Ubuntu 8.10 onto the Lenovo SL400 laptop in a dual boot configuration. Like the live CD everything worked as expected in terms of the basic hardware on the laptop, there were a few problems I did notice however.
The first problem I noticed was right after installing Ubuntu 8.10 onto the laptop the laptop would not boot into Ubuntu on reboot it just sat there at a black screen. I let it sit there for while before finally just shutting the laptop down and rebooting it. On the second bootup Ubuntu 8.10 booted up fine with no issues. I’m not sure what stopped the first reboot from happening but I have seen this happen several times now. For whatever reason this lockup only seems to happen when telling Ubuntu to restart/reboot. If I tell Ubuntu to turn the power off and then turn the laptop on I don’t see this locking up. The lockup looks like it happens just as the login page is about to show up and just after it detects the WIFI. Hopefully this lockup issue is something the developers are aware of and it gets fixed soon because this is another annoying problem.
Two things I noticed that did NOT work on the laptop were the volume up and down and mute keys along with the scroll button not doing anything on the trackpoint. I can live with the volume keys not working but not being able to use that middle scroll button to scroll with the trackpoint is somewhat annoying since I used that a lot in windows to scroll around on web pages.
What pissed me to no end though were the sound issues I had with Ubuntu 8.10. Two of the first things I installed were VLC and Audacity and I was surprised to see these two apps do not play well together. How I found this out was I had a movie file playing in VLC that I had paused. While the movie was paused I downloaded and installed Audacity to see how that would work. After Audacity was installed I tried to play back an mp3 through the program and I was not getting any audio at all.
The strange thing about Audacity not working was that the meter bars were moving as if the sound was in fact working but I wasn’t hearing anything. This little problem was driving me nuts and after trying every single output option in Audacity I was about to give up. While sitting there in a stare of disbelief it dawned on me that VLC might be hogging the audio driver and maybe that’s why Audacity couldn’t play audio. I exited out of VLC and sure enough after reloading Audacity I could play audio through it.
Audacity also has other annoying issues, and that is once you record a track if you hit the record button a second time it pops up an error about getting access to the sound device. For whatever reason laying down a second track causes Audacity to error out under Ubuntu 8.10. Under WIN XP Audacity runs fine and that includes laying down multiple tracks so I’m not sure what the problem is under Ubuntu 8.10.
I don’t know what has to be done to sort these sound issues out with the different apps out there but the sound problems I have seen on a lot of different distributions including Ubuntu really does blow my mind. If there is one thing I think that needs to be fixed and fixed in a really bad way it’s the way that applications and OS 's like Ubuntu work together in terms of audio.
In windows you don’t even think about the sound drivers or the sound card and that’s the way it should be. Nothing pisses me off more then to be in Audacity and have a dozen options for sound output and not a single one will give me sound when VLC is running. Windows may suck for a lot of things but I would take the way windows handles audio any day over the way the different Linux distributions handle it.
Before I wrap this up I want to thank whoever built the partition manager part of the Ubuntu 8.10 install from the Live CD. I thought it was pretty slick the way you could grab the little slider bar thingy and allocate how much hard drive space Windows and Ubuntu get when the drive is partitioned for a dual boot install.
In conclusion I would like to see the developers for Ubuntu put more work into the basic stuff such as detecting display resolution properly and also working on the audio problems. It’s nice to have fancy 3D effects and the like but if the users throw out the CD before even getting the software installed there won’t be much hope for the users to see any of the other work that went into Ubuntu. The delay problem on shutdown was also something that should have been addressed before Ubuntu 8.10 went live. As for the laptop, I was actually quite impressed that Ubuntu 8.10 picked up most of the hardware on the laptop. Too bad however the M-audio interface wasn’t able to work right; if it had I would have wiped WIN XP off the machine in a heartbeat.