New video card — ATI HD4350 — Sigh for proprietary drivers

So I got a new video card, since the old one was quite fuzzy (compiz went haywire repeatedly, or froze, or emacs decided to ovrewrite the window instead of clearing it before scrolling, the Tyan logo at boot up had the wrong colours, …). Since finding r500 cards on the market is near-impossible, I got an HD4350; I got one that would support 1920×1440 resolution, which seems to be available on some pretty high-end 24” monitors, which hopefully one day I’ll get (the 20” feels small lately).

Now, since this also has an r700-series CPU, I had to fiddle quite a bit to get it to work, and the results are, sincerely, not extremely nice.

First stop: trying the experimental radeon driver with all the extra support enabled. Using GIT versions of the driver, mesa, libdrm and the kernel itself (long story anyway), I get to the point it actually starts up after creating the modeline manually (because otherwise the monitor gets out of range… on a DVI connection). It seems to work, KMS enabled and all the stuff.. it worked fine, for a few hours, then it kernel panicked (and the panic wasn’t sent to the serial console, just the vga console!).

Second stop: non-KMS drivers, still with all the GIT software… it works, sort-of. When compiz is enabled (and I use compiz to be more productive: desktop wall and obscured non-focus windows are definitely useful), menus and textboxes corrupts… to the point of being unusable.

At the end, I had to install ati-drivers, and I’m now running the proprietary version of the drivers; on the upside, it works quite decently for now. I’ll stick this way until radeon can deal with this decently, which means when KMS won’t freeze my system. Maybe 2.6.23?

Setting up a dual-seat system

So I was unable to get all the three monitors working on a single X instance. The 4260 size was too much for X to handle properly, so I decided that the best way to handle this is to get two seats working.

Using a multi-seat system seems like a totally nerd thing, but I would think that with modern multicore CPUs a multiseat system might replace well two or more boxes, if configured properly, in offices and school. But I’ll see to dig deeper into that when I have tried using it for a while.

It might be wroth writing down a few comments about the way I ended up with the video card I’m running now: my 3D Blaster Banshee had the display totally corrupt, I’m still not sure if it’s the video card being broken or an incompatibility between it and the ATi AGP card; the Matrox Mystique didn’t arrive to 1280×1024, I was able to get it at 1024×768 but it’s a bit… too tiny for me, there was not enough video ram (2MB); I ended up trying with an S3 ViRGE just because it looked packed with video ram, and seems like I was right, it supports 1280×1024 just fine… if it wasn’t for the refresh rate. I do hope the problem is with the “ugly pattern” we all know from Xorg, I’ll check better later to see if it works fine with dwm, if it doesn’t, I’ll try to see how it works at 256 colours….

It is strange to see how it’s difficult to find modern mainboards with more than one PCI-E x16 slot, and 16GB of RAM. I decided to get a quad-core for my next box with 16GB of RAM, with the current jobs I’m taking it should be possible for me to get it before June, but I’ll still have to deal with PCI video cards, for that reason (as for why 16GB of RAM… should make it less a pain to deal with repeated compilation of C++ code… and I want to use a few virtual machines); as far as I can see there’s no way to get, with Xorg, two seats working on the same videocard.

By the way, if you follow the Wiki, then you’ll probably see it does not work properly: evdev 1.1 does not respect Phys, evdev 1.2 does not open the devices at all, evdev from GIT works better, but you have to specify the event device to use (nasty, but works perfectly fine as you can symlink stuff around with udev).

Talking about udev, the default /dev/input/by-id symlink are completely useless in my system. The reason is quite easy: I have an Apple Aluminium keyboard (I can’t find anything better to write on!), a Logitech LX700 Cordless Desktop, and since yesterday an MX Revolution mouse; each of these peripherals creates two input device in the kernel (don’t ask me why): the first has one device for the basic keys, plus an extra one for extended keys (like fn); the second has a device for the standard keyboard, plus multimedia keys, and one for the mouse, plus all the extra keys as mouse’s buttons; the third has one device for the mouse, plus one for the extra buttons).

As /dev/input/by-id uses the name and the type of the devices, the Apple keyboard overwrites the symlink by itself, as it obviously has the same name, and has two keyboard devices. The Logitech peripherals instead work quite nicely if they are alone, but as both of them have as internal USB name “Logitech Receiver”, and both have one keyboard and one mouse, … I leave to you guess what happens.

See Greg? This is where usb.ids comes out useful ;)

Anyway, later on today I’ll blog more about the dual-seat system, right now I have some documentation to update and some work to do for my job ;)

Looking for a solution to get three monitors wired in…

So, as my job lately required me to have a lot of windows open to look at, and even my two monitors setup started to feel cluttered, today I decided to invest some of the money I got for my last job to get a new monitor. I decided to get a 20” wide Samsung monitor. Not a bad choice as the monitor is quite nice and seems to blend well with the other two monitors I have.

I haven’t tried to set Xorg correctly yet, that I’ll do tomorrow, as I mounted it in quite late. I also added in an MGA (Mystique) card to see if I can wire in three monitors on Enterprise.

I haven’t investigated too much, but as far as I could see from the results of messing with xorg.conf, the Radeon 9250 does not get by default 1680×1050 which is the resolution of the monitor (if I can get it to run at 1680×1024 would also be nice to me). Also when I set the Virtual size parameter to 4260×1024, I get corrupted images.

Trying to start the mga head with any resolution seem to get me a “not enough video memory”, which might actually be comprehensible, considering the age of the card.

Now, if anybody has an idea how to get three monitors wired in… an option would be to get a Dual-Link DVI capable card, but the cheapest AGP card I can find is a 7600GT from nVidia (which is quite good, I’m sure nVidia would actually get multi-monitor working fine, it was one thing I never had problems using with it), but it costs €100, and I’m planning to change computer next month or the one afterward for a faster box, and I’m not sure if it’s a nice idea to get a new videocard for it now.

Well, I’m not in a hurry, the third monitor will be connected to the laptop tomorrow, so it will not be wasted even if I don’t change the card right away, and I might actually find a solution for the problem with mga.

At any rate, if anybody has a Dual-link DVI (+VGA, or anyway something that could run 3 heads) capable card that is not being used, and want to help me in any way, I’d say this time I’d accept ;) Though I might actually get the new card, after all I am going to sell the computer when I get a new one, so I might just count in the card :)

xine, Matrox and audiobooks

One thing I’ve been trying to do some cleanup of my stuff lately, as I have a lot of things I don’t use anymore and I thus have to get rid of. This especially consists of older hardware, stuff I haven’t used in years, if I ever use it at all (some stuff is just stuff I got, used computers that were on their road to the trash, from which I usually took a few things).

To try getting rid of this stuff I’ve been trying eBay for the first time in my life. I was able to sell away an old nVidia video card and the infamous Pokémon Sapphire game in Italian; the money I got will start the “new box found” which I have to prepare as I need to replace Enterprise (I’m considering the idea of an 8-core Xeon box, so that it can continue serving me for the years to come, even if I need to spend more for it right now). Rebuilding FFmpeg, xine-lib and xine-ui many times a day to improve the situation is a very time-consuming job.

Most of what I’ve been trying to sell now is very stupid stuff, like old soundcards and network cards that only do 10Mbps, so I have no refrain from trying to sell it. One thing I’m not sure on what to do. It’s an old Matrox video card, I think a Mystique PCI. Not really a good videocard, not like I need it at all. But there’s one thing that it can be useful for: testing DirectFB/SyncFB in xine.

I didn’t even know of having it, I recovered it from a very old piece of junk, but I tested it once and I know it does work. I could be testing those outputs too, which at the moment I’m sure are mostly unmaintained in xine, especially the 1.2 branch.

But to do that, I need a computer where to put it (I don’t know if it ever works on AMD64), and I need time to pour on that. So here is the question: does anybody want me to take a look after SyncFB/DirectFB in xine? If there is somebody, then I’ll consider it and as soon as I’m done with my current jobs (mid-February, early March) I’ll see to put the card to use.

If I don’t hear from anyone in, say, a few months, I’ll likely just try to sell the card away. Please say so if you want DirectFB/SyncFB support. An appreciation token is also well appreciated and might actually move this up in my priority list, but not really needed ;)

Talking about audiobooks, I found myself having trouble to sleep again, lately, so I’m using podcasts to sleep. It’s actually nice, especially since BBC seems to have quite a few interesting podcasts (yeah I listen to them in English, it actually makes me feel better to listen to stuff in English rather than Italian before sleeping). Unfortunately the podcasts are never much long, and that is a bit of a problem as often one podcast is not enough to make me sleep.

I’ve been re-listening to “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, which I bought from the iTunes Store while I was in the hospital, and which I never was able to complete actually (I wasn’t able to listen to the third part), and that also is nice. I don’t have the force to read in bed lately, as I tend to get to sleep very very late, when I should be sleeping already for a while, and audiobooks are useful for that. Of course, now I don’t have the urgency I had in the hospital, so I can avoid buying them from the DRM-encumbered iTunes Store, and I was looking at the CD versions on Amazon, the whole Hitchhiker’s series looks nice.

Has anybody been listening to audiobooks? I would very much like some suggestion on what to look for and what to look out for. I seen that BBC is full of audiobooks (they seem to have a different company for those), but I’d like some opinions about their quality, especially I’d like them not to be abridged versions.

On the wishlist I put, beside the Hitchhiker’s boxset, The Pelican Brief (by John Grisham, I like his books, and I didn’t see the movie) and The Hobbit (I loved the book, but I read it only in Italian, an audiobook might be a good way to begin an English Tolkien experience). Other suggestions will be appreciated, maybe I’ll do an order for those before next month, as I really need something to help me sleeping.