Graphics card for Dell T105/Ubuntu machine?
February 25, 2008 3:52 AM   Subscribe

LinuxNewbie/Hardware Filter: I just bought a Dell T105 server and installed Ubuntu on it. The machine is great, but graphics performance is very very bad. It only has PCI and PCIe 8x slots, no PCIe 16x ones. Is it possible to get a compatible graphics card?

I know it's a server, not a desktop machine. I'm not trying to run the latest video games on it, but even 2D graphics performance is completely lacking using the onboard graphics chip. A 64 MB PCI graphics card would be good enough, it just has to be supported by Ubuntu.

I know this is a very specific and somewhat daft question, since I'm trying to use server hardware as a desktop machine, but my attempts at looking up the answer have been completely fruitless.
posted by Zarkonnen to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What is the onboard graphics chip? At the very least, what manufacturer? Are you sure your problem is caused by the chip, rather than a less-than-optimal driver?
posted by flabdablet at 4:01 AM on February 25, 2008

Wow, I really had to dig to find out what kind of graphic card you have. I mean, like, really DIG. This is what it claims you have:

An integrated ATI ES1000 2D graphics controller with 16 MB of graphics
memory. Maximum resolution is 1600x1200 with 65,536 colors; true-color
graphics are supported in the following resolutions: 640 x 480, 800 x 600,
1024 x 768, and 1280 x 1024.

ATI support under Linux is atrocious. It's finally starting to get a little better, as ATI has finally released documentation, but it's got a long way to go.

The chips that are easiest to support are the Intel motherboard chips... they're slow, but Intel themselves provide drivers, so they work really well. As long as you don't need to game, that's the best choice. Unfortunately, that's not what you have, and you can't get Intel graphic cards; it has to be on the motherboard.

NVidia's really your only other option. Their drivers aren't open-source, but they work very well. Pretty much any NVidia card should work okay. This $28 7200 is likely to be fine. If you want something recent, this 8400 is $37. Neither of these cards is at all fast; they'll be okay for 2D, but very bad at 3D. You can spend more money on something better if you want, but for a server, these are likely to be just fine.

Once you have an NVidia card, it looks like the instructions here will help you get the right driver loaded. The default free driver is pretty limited. The official NVidia one is much better.

Note that you'll want to disable the motherboard graphics as soon as you get the NVidia one installed; you'll want the system to boot up entirely on the NVidia card.
posted by Malor at 4:34 AM on February 25, 2008

Second NVidia, it's well supported with ubuntu.
posted by mattoxic at 4:40 AM on February 25, 2008

If you do want to put a separate graphics card in it, this Ubuntu forums post hints you won't have any trouble since your PCIe 8x slots are physically PCIe 16x size (here's a corrected link to the manual; the note referred to is on page 70).

Anything with an nVidia GPU works fine with Ubuntu. The current version (Gutsy) will automatically notice the presence of an nVidia-based card and offer you the choice of installing a restricted (non-open-source) driver. If you do that, it will run fast.
posted by flabdablet at 4:45 AM on February 25, 2008

As others have said, Nvidia is the way to go in your situation. Note you will have a choice of 2 drivers, the "nv" open source driver that does not do 3d and the "nvidia" driver provided by Nvidia that does 3d. I only use the "nvidia" driver, which is good but not perfect (rare X restarts when a 3d app crashes, as i play some alpha/beta games). The "nv" driver may be stable and should have acceptable 2d performance, but i haven't used it.

The "nv" and "nvidia" correspond to exact strings in your /etc/X11/xorg.conf. The "nvidia" will only work for you if you install nvidia driver from the repositories or The drivers i use (from nvidia site) also install a graphics properties program (Nvidia Settings) similar to what you get in windows with Display Properties.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 5:02 AM on February 25, 2008

Also when you build a new kernel you will have to reinstall the nvidia driver.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 5:05 AM on February 25, 2008

If you use the Restricted Drivers Manager GUI, it installs the correct packages from the repositories for you, and these get updated in step with kernel updates so you don't have to fool with it yourself. Installing the repository packages also puts the right things in xorg.conf, so there is no need to edit it by hand.
posted by flabdablet at 5:15 AM on February 25, 2008

NVidia's really your only other option. Their drivers aren't open-source, but they work very well. Pretty much any NVidia card should work okay. This $28 7200 is likely to be fine. If you want something recent, this 8400 is $37.

Except those are both PCI-E x16, and the guy has no x16 slots. There are some Plain PCI NVidia cards out there, though.
posted by delmoi at 7:06 AM on February 25, 2008

According to his manual, his slots are physically PCIe x16 size, so any PCIe x16 card should fit. PCIe negotiates the number of lanes in use when it starts, so any PCIe x16 card will understand what to do with the PCIe x8 slot wiring. It will of course only have x8 bandwidth available to it, but neither the 7200 nor 8400 are likely to suffer perceptible performance loss as a result of this. PCIe x8 is still about 16x faster than PCI.
posted by flabdablet at 7:40 AM on February 25, 2008

Yeah, 3D graphics are hardly ever bandwidth-limited. You would barely see a difference between x1 and x16 on nearly all games. A very few that use streaming textures might need x4.
posted by Malor at 7:44 AM on February 25, 2008

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