4 May 2010

Linux Ubuntu 10.04 upgrade, ATI MobileRadeon 3650 woes

(Note: If you're after my ATI MobileRadeon 3650 graphics card saga, scroll further down)

As mentioned in my more eclectic piece of yesterday, I stuffed up my computer over the weekend, and now I'm here to tell you all about it as well as tell you about the latest Ubuntu release.

I upgraded through the update manager as I've always done. I know a lot of people prefer to take backup, clean the machine, install a fresh Ubuntu version, and then copy back the personal stuff, install the stuff that went missing, as a means of a more secure and painless way. I sneer at such disdain for life and adventure!

I've never had trouble with just clicking the update button that extends beyond what minor snafus you might expect, like drivers to old stuff not working perfect with new stuff, but that's in the nature of going from old to new systems, and doesn't say anything bad on the upgrade process as such. For me, it worked pretty good.

But let's go through snags, one serious annoyance, an irritated state of affairs, and a few tips in dealing with your ATI Radeon issues ;


I had mostly no trouble at all, really, except after the install the following snags are noted ;
  • The brightness control no longer controls the brightness (and I now must use my special function keys to adjust it). No biggie, just annoying.
  • My Vodafone 3G mobile network adapter software got uninstalled. Why? It was an independent third-party program. Puzzle.
  • The applets (minimize and desktop switcher) on my bottom panel (Gnome) has crashed a couple of times. Odd.
  • The system seems slower, but I need to investigate a bit further before pointing fingers.

Serious annoyance

Before we get to the good parts, I need to point out this one thing that just stands out as the dumbest thing with this release, and it is just so stupid that no amount of trying to back-pedal out of it with the lamest excuses ever is good enough;

They switched the minimize, maximize and close window icons from the right side (like the rest of the world does it) to the left (like what retarded systems used to do in the 80's and 90's)! Luckily there's a couple of easy fixes, but none which are embedded in the system to make it easy. Friggin' idiots, what were they thinking? I could write a whole book on just how stupid this was, but suffice to say, my over 10 years of UX and GUI design experience - and my personal experience in using these here new (but terribly old) ideas - screams how much it sucks big time! Icons of window control now sit on top of menus that you use all the time, and the cognitive distance between doing what you want and what will piss you off has now been reduced to a swearword's distance on a regular basis. I seriously hope this is not a hint of things to come, or I'll jump ship. I can deal with the odd snafu, but I don't want to deal with continued stupidity.

Irritating state of affairs

I have a Toshiba Satellite P300 (05Y01Y, which now is discontinued ... a true mark of comfort for me) that came with pre-installed Windows Vista which I killed by accident, and I popped Ubuntu 8.10 on there and have been reasonably happy with all this time. However, all this time there's a few things that still is terribly annoying, although I know this is the fault of vendors and not Linux (so I live with these blemishes rather than whinge about them). Over the updates things have improved (like Skype and Choqok), but there's still more hardware related issues that should have easy fixes ;
  • BlueTooth does not work, and probably never will. Toshiba sucks when it comes to supporting Linux, and their BlueTooth stack obviously is not supported here, nor are the default Linux stacks compatible with whatever my machine's got. However, I'm not in need of BlueTooth so I haven't spent the appropriate crazy time needed for proper investigation.
  • There's an insanely annoying delay (between 0.5 to 2 seconds long!) whenever a window is minimized or maximized (which also means when the application starts up, hides, reappears or closes down, you know, the sort of stuff you do all freakin' time) when I've got graphics acceleration switched on. This is apparently a bug, and it's been around and come back in various forms. There's a few suggested fixes, but mostly it just doesn't seem to want to go away. This one is seriously bad, and it amazes me that something like this could still be hanging around in an otherwise polished distribution like Ubuntu. There might be a link to the ATI drivers below as well, but the sad part is that to temporary no go insane over this, I sadly have to switch graphics acceleration off.
    Update! It seems that after trying the suggested fixes for enabling 2D that didn't at first do anything, now all of a sudden the problem disappeared! Oh, joy! Come to think of it, I did do a reboot not that long ago, and re-installed the desktop switcher applet. Maybe there were some correlation between the switcher and the graphics driver? Who knows. I'm happily running Compiz and Emerald (although the latter is only an experiment I suspect will be uninstalled).
  • The two internal microphones on the machine has never worked, probably never will again due to Toshibas poor Linux support. Crikey, can't they just hire one or two Linux guys to at least tweak existing software with configuration options that might be compatible with some of their more popular models? I could spend a weekend to do this myself, but I've got an USB DSP that does these things which works just fantastic, so again I won't spend the time chasing it.
  • My external Logitech Optical Radio mouse does not work properly. It works in the sense that the accelerator insist that my whole world is either top-left or bottom-right, and there's no easy ways in Ubuntu to modify crazy acceleration, so I've just given up on it and use it on my Windows machine.
  • The internal ATI MobileRadeon 3650 graphics card saga; this one gets its own section below.

To me, this upgrade was a bit meh. Nothing stands out as impressive, just small fixes here and there. There's the new menu's at the top so many people rave about, but I don't like nor use them, so meh. The new colors are, well, meh. I didn't mind brown. Not sure I mind purple. Meh. I like that more icons are getting the same style and form, but no biggie. The Software Center has been prettied up a bit, but still lacks what's really important, like testimonials, ratings, awards, versioning, people's comments, recomendations, field groupings, and so on. Meh. I'm sure there's more stuff around, and I'll find them eventually. The only real thing that stands out is that some old problems still aren't fixed, and my system is less responsive. Oh, and they switched from Sun to the OpenJDK Java which threw me off for a few minutes as well. Meh.

My Mobile Radeon 3650 woes

The ATI / AMD chipset has a shaky support history under Linux, but the good news is that there is some degree of support. And indeed, my screen right now is utilizing both OpenGL and higher screens and lots of colors, so all should be well. But it is not, at least not "all" well.

It's not that my latest upgrade killed my graphics setup. No, in fact after upgrade things worked quite well, except I had four ATI Control Center Catalyst icons under System -> Preferences, so I was trying to fix that, and see if there was a fix for the annoying "minimize,maximize delay" bug mentioned further up. But all of a sudden I must have fiddled with the wrong setting (actually, I was uninstalling some unrelated package that wasn't so unrelated after all).

Here's my receipt for fixing a seriously broken and mangled FGLRX install ;
  1. Purge your filthy system of sin ;

    sudo apt-get remove --purge fglrx* 
    sudo apt-get remove --purge xserver-xorg-video-ati 
    sudo apt-get remove --purge xserver-xorg-video-radeon
  2. If you get an error like so ;
       dpkg-divert: mismatch on package
       when removing `diversion of /usr/lib/libGL.so.1.2 to /usr/lib/fglrx/libGL.so.1.2.xlibmesa by fglrx'
       found `diversion of /usr/lib/libGL.so.1.2 to /usr/lib/fglrx/libGL.so.1.2.xlibmesa by xorg-driver-fglrx'

    Go to this page over here for general instructions on fixing diversions.
  3. Go to System -> Admin -> Hardware drivers, and wait for it to collect its thoughts.
  4. Click on "Install" or "Activate" near the bottom, and wait for it to do its magic.
  5. Reboot.
That worked for me; your mileage will vary. Downloading the (massive; 96Mb!!) driver from ATI's homepage, purging and running the downloaded installer did nothing for me. The whole ATI graphics driver brahooha is amazingly bad and should get some cleaning up. Even the Control Center that ATI delivers looks amateurish, and it seems their software lacks any good cleaning up strategies. Or even nice GUI ways of setting up important settings (!!).

The next time I'm buying a computer for my Linux Ubuntu adventures, I'll do some pretty hefty research first to make sure I avoid at least some of the biggest pitfalls. Bloody stupid vendors. Meh.

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