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Archive for the ‘NVidia’ Category

It’s tough being pure GNU, especially when hardware is involved.

All my workstation computers are custom-built; I like to know exactly what goes into them, and would do the same for laptops, if I could. The last time I bought a workstation, I decided to break my old habit of buying an ATI video card, and buy an NVidia one instead (Never mind the model number, which usually matters less than the manufacturer would have you believe and is irrelevant here).

The switch seemed a good idea at the time. Not only was the ATI market share being reduced so quickly that the company seemed in danger of disappearing, but free and open source drivers for NVidia seemed closer to competion than for ATI. I felt confident in the decision, and settled down to learn the new arcanery of another manufacturer.

Then, last week I turned on the computer to find that yellow artifacts were cycling down the monitor like something out of The Matrix. I managed to boot once without them, only to have them reappear as I settled down to my morning email. Before long, the artifacts were so thick on the screen that I could no longer read anything beneath them, and I had to do an ungraceful shutdown, haunted by the vague guilt felt by those using a journaling filesystem, who know that, when they do finally manage to reboot, they will be confronted by the announcement, “The filesystem is NOT clean.”

Did I mention that it happened on the morning of the day that I do my usual backup, too? The perversity of the universe was apparently set on stun that day.

Some fiddling with my test computer soon showed that the problem was not the monitor, as I originally thought, but the video card.
Since I had bought the computer system thirteen months earlier, I was sure that the warranty would have just expired. To my surprise, it still had almost two years to run, so I took the system into the shop that assembled it for me.

According to the store’s staff, I was far from the only one whose card was suffering from the same problem. Trouble with NVidia cards of several models were becoming widespread, I was told. Fed up, I switched to an ATI card, also taking the opportunity to double the video memory to 512 megabytes.

I had been thinking of video cards as costing three or four times what they actually do; the old price had stuck in my head, just as I automaticallly assume that a paperback will cost five or six dollars – like most people, for me, the natural price for anything is the price they were when I was newly an adult. I also received a trade-in on my old card.

I switched back because, now, the situation is reversed. Since AMD bought ATI last year, ATI has been regaining market share. Moreover, while AMD’s behavior is far from perfect towards free software, it is still friendlier than any other manufacturer. Now, thanks to AMD, ATI free and open source drivers seem likely to mature first before NVidia ones.

So far, I’m satisfied with the swap. Not only does my workstation run faster, but I can use the highest resolution for the monitor, which I never could with the NVidia card. More importantly, although I can’t use an exact driver for the card, I can use a free one that has at least some degree of support for 3-D, without resorting to an archaic driver like VESA.

All the same, I can’t help thinking that I would probably have had a less troublesome week had I not tried to second guess how the market would react with free software and stuck with my original preference.

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