Gavin R. Putland,  BE PhD

Saturday, December 03, 2011 (Comment)

Ubuntu 12.04 Beta 1 on Dell Vostro 360

[Note (June 19, 2012): This review was originally written for Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 1, then edited for the Alpha 2 and Beta 1 releases. The latter edit was done on March 3. Each statement, unless otherwise noted, is applicable to all three releases.]

I'm editing this review in a Firefox window under the first beta release of Ubuntu 12.04 "Precise Pangolin", running from a live USB stick on a Dell Vostro 360 "All-In-One" PC. The CPU is an Intel "Sandy Bridge" Core i3-2100 with integrated HD 2000 graphics. Although the native resolution is 1920×1080 (FHD / "full HD"), I'm getting only 1280×1024. To get that, I need to boot with either the "nomodeset" or the "i915.modeset=0" parameter.*

If I boot with the default parameters, I get an almost dark screen with occasional wavy patterns, like ripples in the ocean on a moonless night, punctuated by brief flashes of what looks like a full-resolution display. At first, the flashes show the familiar graphical Ubuntu logo with the five dots under it (whereas if I boot with "nomodeset" or "i915.modeset=0", I get a plain-text four-dot version). Later, the flashes show what looks like a Unity desktop. But because the flashes are so brief and occur at unpredictable times, I can't make more precise observations.

This bug has existed since the first alpha release. The problem, as Anthony Wong informed me, is related to the eDP display interface used by this All-In-One PC. Contrary to my initial impression, it is not a general problem with Sandy Bridge ("SNB"), which Ubuntu has supported since version 10.10.

The workaround is to boot with "nomodeset" or "i915.modeset=0". That gives me a working desktop with sound, albeit with suboptimal screen resolution, a distorted aspect ratio, pixels that don't match the physical screen, no meaningful sub-pixel hinting, and no animations.* But my Ethernet modem and Laserjet 3030 printer are detected without incident, and work — although the printer takes an inexplicably long time to print a web page.

Under "System Settings", if I click on "Additional Drivers" (ignoring the disappearing pointer), the system says it is "Searching for available drivers..." and then declares "No proprietary drivers are in use on this system" and does not offer to install any. (Under the alpha releases, as I recall, there was no delay for "Searching for available drivers...") If I go back to "All Settings" and click on "Details" then "Graphics", I am told that the "Driver" is "VESA: Intel®Sandybridge Desktop Graphics" (with no space after "®") and that the "Experience" is "Standard". (In the alpha releases, you had to click on "System Info" instead of "Details".) If I go back to "All Settings" and click on "Displays", I am told that the display is "Unknown" and that the available resolutions are 1280×1024, 1024×768, and 800×600. All three resolutions work, but clicking on "Detect Displays" has no apparent result.

As early as Dec.4, I speculated that the flashing full-HD display was a syncing problem related to the inability to detect the display; but I have no confirmation.

I should note that the available resolutions are no worse than I get with any of the other Linux distributions that I have tried on this machine. None of those distributions gave me even fleeting glimpses of a full-HD display.* I've also tried PC-BSD, which has the same problem, and OpenBSD, with which I have no prior experience, and which I can't persuade to boot to a graphical desktop after installation. So, as far as I'm aware — although I'd be glad to be proven wrong — there is still not a single Linux or BSD distribution that will drive this display with full resolution.*

Speaking of which, I've always thought it silly that if you drive an LCD monitor at less than its full resolution, it insists on zooming the display to full screen, instead of using part of the screen so that the logical pixels match the physical pixels (and sub-pixel hinting works). If a Linux distribution could use the middle 1280×1024 pixels of my 1920×1080 screen, I could make do with that while waiting for a later edition that would use the full resolution. Unfortunately I don't have that option.

But that is all the more reason why the first Linux distribution to support full HD on the SNB/eDP combination will get a boost in the rankings.

Update (Mar.7): Gustavo Spadari has posted a formal bug report. At Mint Forums there's a report of a so-far unsuccessful attempt to set the monitor parameters. And there's a vague indication that the same problem may exist with the optional Nvidia graphics card.


* Update (June 19, 2012): There's a better workaround that gives full HD.

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