Summary

This page has a brief explanation of a possible way to increase the resolution of your unsupported / poorly supported video card under linux by using the generic vesa driver. A sign of this is only getting 800x600 or 640x480 pixels when your monitor can handle a greater resolution.

Background

Trying to install Linux on older hardware can often have a single point of failure of a video card not being supported or not getting configured correctly at installation. This can be especially frustrating if you have no need for accelerated 3D graphics. Sometimes the correct modules may have been installed by your package manager, but the video card is not getting any more than 800x600 pixels, even though it has a greater capability. I found a neat trick buried in a linux forum and I'm highlighting on its own page because I think it is very useful.

Notes

You need to edit the xserver configuration file with superuser (root) privileges. I am showing the Ubuntu linux method below using the sudo command. For most other distributions, you would use the "su" command to become root and then execute the statement without the "sudo" part. You may find that the xorg.conf file does not exist in newer distributions. I have read the configuration is now dynamic, but if you add your own xorg.conf file, it will be included in the configuration. It won't "take over", but be supplemental.

Procedure

  1. Make a backup copy of the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file IF it exists:

    me@myhost$  sudo cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf  /etc/X11/xorg.conf_ORIG

  2. Open the plain text configuration file /etc/X11/xorg.conf using your favorite command line tool, or you can even use gedit on your desktop machines.

    me@myhost$  sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf

  3. Look for the device section. It will look something like this:

    Section "Device"     Identifier "Configured Video Device" EndSection

  4. Modify the existing section to include the vesa driver, or add it if it doesn't exist. If there is an entry for a driver that doesn't seem to be working, I suggest you comment the line out with a "#" symbol so that you can see it for reference.

    Section "Device"     Identifier "Configured Video Device"     Driver     "vesa" #   Driver     "baddrivername" EndSection

  5. Restart the xserver video services by restarting your desktop computer.

That is a simple trick that could have saved me a lot of time if I knew about it before.

Black Screen Problem

If find that you get no video output at all: If you're new to linux, this kind of result could be cause for panic of sorts, as you cannot get to anything, not even a kind of "safe mode". If you are not presented with a login prompt, you can press Ctrl+Alt+F1 and you will get a command prompt in a blank screen. With Ubuntu, log in as a user that has super-user privileges and then copy the backup file to where it used to be:

me@myhost# sudo mv /etc/X11/xorg.conf_ORIG   /etc/X11/xorg.conf me@myhost# sudo shutdown -r now

This will reboot your system with the old xorg.conf file. You can use the "-h" flag with shutdown if you've had enough and need a break. That will halt the system instead of rebooting it.