NVIDIA black screen in Ubuntu Linux -- software or hardware?
April 8, 2011 5:34 PM   Subscribe

I have a Linux laptop with an nvidia graphics card that is giving me headaches. Help me figure out what the deal is!

I have a Dell Inspiron E1505 Linux laptop with an Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 graphics card in it. Lately I've had real trouble with it when I use the "nvidia" driver (v 173, though switching driver versions doesn't seem to make much of a difference) -- periodic black screens that seem unrecoverable, except that I can still SSH into the laptop, only to find that GDM is using 100% CPU. When I switch to "nv" though, things work fine -- no black screens.

Now, I've managed to make the black screens sort of reduced in frequency. At first, I couldn't even log in -- I'd get to the login screen and it'd immediately turn black. Then I switched the GRUB boot line to say "nomodeset" instead of "quiet splash." After that, I can work for a while, but if I do something that works the card up, like starting Celestia, it seems like it goes black, fast.

I have confirmed that this affects a Puppy Linux install (really just a USB install + save file on the hard disk) on the same laptop as well -- using a separate driver install (still nvidia, but v96) and different xorg.conf. Switching back to "nv" makes the problem go away.

What's my next step to figure out what's going on? How can I verify that this is a hardware problem? How can I tell what the hardware problem is? Like if it's a fan problem, how do I tell? The default Dell diagnostics test passed, but I'm not sure if that included graphics card checkups. Seemed like mostly CPU and RAM.

posted by circular to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
BTW, I've taken the laptop apart twice, once to replace the screen with an identical part. So if I need to get in there, I can.
posted by circular at 5:39 PM on April 8, 2011

I can't solve your problem, but have you tried asking this at the Ubuntu Forums? They know much more about Ubuntu than MeFi does.
posted by number9dream at 7:47 PM on April 8, 2011

I've been in this situation myself, and unfortunately the answer is "welcome to linux." You don't have a hardware problem.

The choice you have is between nvidia's known-buggy drivers and nv's differently-buggy drivers with a complete lack of power management. It's only a laptop though, right? I mean, why would anyone want power management on one of them?

Sorry, but that's where we are.
posted by mhoye at 8:04 PM on April 8, 2011


1. Have you tried disabling the screensaver and sleep-on-idle power management?

2. Have you tried using the latest drivers from nVidia? Their current version seems to be 260.19.44, I'm not sure how that compares to your distribution's v173.

3. Take it to nVidia's forums if those things fail

When it locks up, try dropping to a console with ctrl-alt-f2. Log in and kill/restart gdm, then ctrl-alt-f7 or f8 to get back into X.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:50 PM on April 8, 2011

After that, I can work for a while, but if I do something that works the card up, like starting Celestia, it seems like it goes black, fast.

it's possible that the graphics card is failing... you might try using the nvidia management utility to monitor the temperature of the graphics core: it could be the cooling system failing. if it's the chip itself which has gone bad i don't know how you would prove it.

nvidia had a lot of problems with the 7xxx series mobile graphics chips, there was a big lawsuit over one class of them.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:20 PM on April 8, 2011

If you ssh in during a black screen, is it always GDM using all the CPU? If that's the case, maybe try XDM or a text login instead of GDM?
posted by Loudmax at 9:55 PM on April 8, 2011

Umm, how old is your laptop? It may just be what ennui.bz mentioned.

Here is the claims website, however, you can't make a claim anymore, but it may let you figure out if your laptop was affected.
posted by lizarrd at 8:39 AM on April 9, 2011

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