GUIDE: Which drivers to install when using an Nvidia, ATI or Intel video card on Ubuntu


This guide could be usefully in further future for newbies joining Linux distribution Ubuntu. Which could be allot since Steam is migrating focusing it’s gaming platforms to Linux.

I will divide this in several sections that try to address some concerns that we end users have when using this video cards. To make the text smaller and not have to repeat myself a lot I have created the following acronym:

ANI – When you read this it refers to any Ati/AMD, Nvidia or Intel Card.

The questions are found in this order:

  • 1. Can I use the latest ANI on an older version of Ubuntu?
  • 2. What is the difference between using the ANI driver from the official site, the one that comes by default with the system or the one that comes in the PPA repositories?
  • 3. What PPAs are recommended when using any ANI video card?
  • 4. How should I know which ANI package I should install?
  • 5. How to install an ANI driver?
  • 6. What is the difference between the different Proprietary Drivers?
  • 7. What common bugs are solved by using the latest ANI drivers?
  • 8. How to know if my ANI video card is supported in Ubuntu?
  • 9. My ANI video card does not install (Installation problems)

So the following are the top questions asked related to this video cards:

1. Can I use the latest ANI on an older version of Ubuntu?

Ubuntu 11.04 / Ubuntu 11.10

In 11.04 and 11.10, the latest video cards will not work properly using the default drivers. If the video card appeared several months after the release of Ubuntu 11.04 or 11.10, the default drivers will probably not have support. It might be necessary to do an upgrade/update of the system or even add a PPA that gives support for current and future video cards for this versions of Ubuntu.

For example, in the case of the GTX 560, it gained support with the Nvidia 275.xx versions. Since Ubuntu 11.04 came with support for the 270.xx series, your Nvidia card will not be detected or at least not work correctly (Not fully work). Your only solution is to use the one from the Nvidia Site (Not recommended) or to use one from one of the Nvidia PPA maintained for Ubuntu (The PPAs that offer Nvidia, Ati and Intel updated packages are the x-swat and xorg-edgers PPA). This only applies to 11.04. For 11.10 and above it works correctly (Except in some situations provided below) since the 275.xx drivers had already appeared by then.

Ubuntu 12.04+

In Ubuntu 12.04+ there was a change in the way video drivers (And in general any proprietary driver) was used, maintained and updated. So starting with this version it is much easier to handle and solve many of the problems that we faced with older versions. You will find an updated repository that comes by default and covers most recent video cards. It also updates faster compared to past Ubuntu versions. So most likely you will not need any additional PPA unless you have the latest and greatest of the video cards (OnBoard, OnCPU or on a AGP,PCI,PCI-Ex Slot)

2. What is the difference between using the ANI driver from the official site, the one that comes by default with the system or the one that comes in the PPA repositories?

There are several points I wish to address here. As I mentioned before, there are at least 3 ways to install a driver. You can either download the driver from the Official site, use the one that comes with Ubuntu by default or add a PPA and use the one that comes with it (There are more ways but I will not cover compiling drivers).

For Intel you either use the drivers that come with Ubuntu (Which can be updated every time you update the system) or add a PPA that will offer the latest version of the Intel Drivers. This can solve issues when using Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge or any other newer or older Intel graphics cards.

For Nvidia and Ati/AMD, you have 3 options, you can use the driver that comes from the Official site, use the one that comes in a PPA or use the one that comes by default with Ubuntu.

The difference can be summed in the following points:

– Official Site –

  • It offers the latest driver (It is the first to be released)
  • Installation is via the terminal using the package downloaded
  • When an update appears you have to download the new package manually
  • It has more issues than using any other method (Specially for Nvidia)
  • It is the 2nd recommended way for Ati/AMD and the last one for Nvidia
  • Drivers for Ati/AMD are much better than the ones that come by default

– PPA Repositories –

  • It offers the latest driver a couple of days after it is released in the official site
  • Installation is either via the terminal or GUI
  • If you have a previous installed driver it will update the package automatically
    (When doing an update of the system)
  • When an update appears you will be notified to update using the Update Manager
  • In general it is more stable and tested than the official ones or the ones that come by default with Ubuntu
    (There are several exceptions in regard to the ones that come by default)
  • It has less issues than using any other method (Less issues for all video cards)
  • It is the 1st recommended way for Ati/AMD and Nvidia. Intel drivers that come with the latest Ubuntu are actually very good.

– Default Ubuntu Drivers –

  • For every new release the drivers get better and better (Specially for Intel)
  • Gets updated less frequently than a PPA
  • In most cases the drivers will work out of the box (Nouveau for Nvidia)
  • Not up to date when compared with the official site or a PPA
  • More stable for Intel
  • Development is going well for all video cards.
  • It is by far, more tested in Ubuntu than the one from the official site or any PPA
  • Easier to update, simply update the system and done

3. What PPAs are recommended when using any ANI video card?

There are 2 types of PPA for ANI video cards in Ubuntu:

Ubuntu X Swat – It offers a more updated version of ANI drivers and takes normally between 2 to 10 days for a new version to arrive once it appears on the official site. It is more tested and stable than the Xorg-Edgers version.

Xorg Edgers – The name implies that it is bleeding edge but don’t let that fool you. Since 12.04 it has progressively become more and more stable. When using 12.10 (Or even the 13.04 Beta) for cases like Intel and Nvidia, the video card runs much better and offers better performance. It updates more quickly than X-Swat with a time frame between 1 to 5 days (The latest versions have all come out the same day as the official version).

To install any of this you would simply run the add-apt-repository command in the terminal as shown in the following lines:

X-Swat

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-x-swat/x-updates
This would add the x-swat PPA to your system.

sudo apt-get update
This would update the system and make sure your system knows of the packages provided by the added PPA.

sudo apt-get upgrade
This would update the system taking into consideration any packages the PPA offers.

Xorg Edgers

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:xorg-edgers/ppa
This would add the Xorg Edgers PPA to your system.

sudo apt-get update
This would update the system and make sure your system knows of the packages provided by the added PPA.

sudo apt-get upgrade
This would update the system taking into consideration any packages the PPA offers.

NOTE – Do not install both, they might give you problems since both try to install similar packages. Either choose X-Swat of Xorg-Edgers but not both.

4. How should I know which ANI package I should install?

If you are using Intel, the same package will generally cover all versions of Intel. The same goes out for Ati (In almost all cases it will be the fglrx package). The situation gets a little bit tougher when dealing with Nvidia. Nvidia right now has several package versions for different generation of Nvidia cards:

  • Nvidia 173 – For older Nvidia Cards ranging from Geforce MX up to the 9xxx series.
  • Nvidia 304/310/313 – For newer ones. Goes from the Geforce 6xxx series up to the latest ones.

If you are using an older Ubuntu version you might see Nvidia package version like 185.xx, 275.xx and others. With the latest Ubuntu versions, this gets a bit of cleaning up and simplifies the amount of packages.

5. How to install an ANI driver?

If you are using Intel and reading this.. well, you don’t have to do anything at all. You most likely have the latest.

If you have an ATI video card, in most cases will only need to install the fglrx package. Assuming you have added the PPA for it as mentioned above you can simply type the following in the terminal:

sudo apt-get install fglrx

For Nvidia, it depends on the video card and package needed for it, if the video card is old the most likely you will run the following line:

sudo apt-get install nvidia-173

(Again, assuming you added the PPA)

If you have the latest Nvidia card, then it is recommended to install the latest package which at this moment is:

sudo apt-get install nvidia-313

The biggest exception for both, Nvidia and Ati, is when you have 2 video cards (Like a laptop with an Intel video card and an Ati or Nvidia card).

In this case I would suggest to follow this link Bumblebee or Ironhide?

6. What is the difference between the different Proprietary Drivers?

This is more of an Nvidia question, but as I mentioned in Difference between Additional Drivers there is some information that you should know:

In general there are 3 options:

  • The Open Source Nouveau which runs by default if no other Proprietary driver is installed.
  • The Proprietary driver (Tested)
  • The Proprietary driver (Experimental)

Depending if “you feel lucky punk!” you can go with Nouveau which works well in most cases but it is not recommended if you want to start testing out Windows Games with Wine or Ubuntu games that use extensive OpenGL (Specially now that Steam is available in Ubuntu).

Then you have the Tested Proprietary drivers. This will work stable and give you considerable more FPS for your card than Nouveau.

Lastly you have the Experimental Proprietary drivers. This will work good in most cases (Using them right now and they work perfectly). This drivers bring a considerably higher performance. You should feel the change when playing L4D2 or see it with unity on how fast Dash and other Compiz features react.

Depending on which one you want, you can go with Open Source Nouveau, Proprietary Tested one or the Experimental one. Note only that either of the Proprietary drivers is recommended for the latest Nvidia cards (Series 6000 and above). Nouveau is more general in that regards but will not offer powerful 3D performance.

7. What common bugs are solved by using the latest ANI drivers?

Common bugs shared by all video cards are:

  • Missing Unity launcher
  • Missing Unity panels
  • Desktop does not appear (Black screen)
  • Top/Bottom of the screen are cut out
  • Video looks cut into pieces
  • Higher Resolutions are not usable (Not found)

If you happen to have any of this, or similar in some aspects, it is generally a good idea to add one of the PPAs and update your video drivers. In almost all cases, the problem is solved after updating and rebooting. For this cases I also recommend using the Xorg Edgers PPA. Of course you also need to know which package to install. If you have an Nvidia Riva TNT, for the love of god, do not install the latest Nvidia 313 package. In that case you would need the oldest one, the nvidia-173 for example.

With the above mentioned, I also invite you to take a look at some of the questions related to video cards:

What is the correct way to install ATI Catalyst Video Drivers (fglrx)?

How to correctly enable Desktop Cube in Unity 3D?

Enable HDMI audio for an Nvidia card

How do I enable desktop visual effects?

NVIDIA drivers not working after upgrade. Why can I only see terminal?

Desktop does not show when I installed nvidia drivers!

Black screen on latest Nvidia/Ati Cards when starting LightDM/Ubuntu

HDMI/VGA connection cuts borders of screen or creates blurry text (Unfocused for just seconds)

8. How to know if my ANI video card is supported in Ubuntu?

Here are a couple of hints to know if your video card is supported in Ubuntu:

  • If the video card existed BEFORE the release of the Ubuntu version you are using, it has a 99% change it will be supported.
  • If the video card appeared less than 6 months AFTER the release of the Ubuntu version you are using and you kept that Ubuntu version updated, then you have a pretty good chance it will be supported.
  • If you added one of the PPAs I mentioned above then you have a 99.99% chance that it will be supported.
  • Checking the Nvidia/Ati/Intel site for support might yield a quicker answer, but in almost 100% of all cases, your video card will be support either by the open source driver or by the proprietary driver. In most cases, it will be the proprietary driver.
  • Using the latest Ubuntu version will also improve your chances of having your latest video card supported.

In general, make it a rule of thumb that if you have the latest video card or almost one of the latest video cards, you will need the latest drivers (Nvidia and Ati mostly). So always install the latest drivers through the PPA or the Software Sources that come with Ubuntu (Jockey in older versions of Additional Drivers).

9. My ANI video card does not install (Installation problems)

Most installation problems related to Ati or Nvidia can be solved by following the steps provided in Can not install Nvidia driver but in short I can summarize that in the following steps assuming you have one of the following issues:

  • Installed the official Nvidia drivers and have a problem updating or removing them
  • Screen looks wrong/corrupted
  • Unity does not load of fails to load
  • Can not access the GUI environment in no way

If you have installed the official Nvidia Drivers, follow all steps below after having started Ubuntu in Recovery Mode. If not, skip to step 2:

  1. If you installed the Nvidia driver from the Nvidia site or the Ati driver from the official AMD site, then type the following on the terminal (In this example assume you have the Ubuntu 64Bit with the 304.51 version of Nvidia):
    sudo sh NVIDIA-Linux-x86_64-304.51.run --unistall
  2. If you have install any nvidia package like nvidia-current or nvidia-current-updates remove them. Same goes with Ati drivers. sudo apt-get remove nvidia-current for example.
  3. ANY change you did to blacklist the Nvidia/Ati driver for instance or changes to any other files related to the Nvidia/Ati drivers should be reversed. This is just in case you went ahead and started editing like crazy (Which happens I know ^^).
  4. Delete or backup/move the xorg.conf file. You will not need this file right now.
  5. After doing all the steps above then Reboot the PC and make sure it loads with Nouveau and not with any Nvidia drivers for Nvidia cases or with ati drivers and not with fglrx for Ati/AMD cases..
  6. If right now you KNOW you are running Unity with the Nouveau driver (Or Ati open source driver) or if you just happened to get a video error, or it just fails to correctly load LightDM, do not worry, all 3 options will end the same way. When rebooting, in the GRUB menu, select the “Recovery Mode”. After the recovery mode shows you the recover options, choose the root option or the Failsafe X option. In this modes and after all previous steps have been done, install the nvidia/ati driver using the PPA I mentioned above. Always try to install the latest driver if you have a recent video card: sudo apt-get install nvidia-313 for Nvidia cards or sudo apt-get install fglrx for the latest Ati/AMD Cards. Remember there should not be anything installed before doing this in regards to Nvidia/Ati drivers (Except obviously the Nouveau drivers).
  7. Now reboot and all should work.

NOTE – In Step 6, if it looks as though the PC is stuck loading just press CTRL+ALT+F1 to go to the TTY1 terminal and do step 6 from there.

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