Ubuntu and Aging Nvidia Graphics Cards: Compositing in 5 Steps

I’ve got a pretty old Nvidia Quadro FX 1400 video card in an older IBM that I use as my primary workstation at home. It only has 3GB of RAM, about 4TB of storage, and a dual core Intel Pentium 4 CPU at 3.60GHz. It’s plenty fast for my needs. I typically run Sublime Text 3, a terminal window with a few tabs, and Chrome Beta with many tabs.

I also use Docky, I’d really like to find a good replacement for it, but that’s something for another post.

1. Install the 304 nvidia driver.

Just fire up Synaptic Package Manager and search for “nvidia”. It’ll list a lot of stuff, but install the nvidia-304 and nvidia-304-dev packages. After installation is done, go to step 2.

2. Select the nvidia-304 driver.

Go to “Settings Manager”, then click “Additional Drivers”. Select the 304 driver, select the one labeled as “(proprietary, tested)”. Look at the screenshot for a detailed view.

3. Apply the nvidia-304 driver.

Click Apply, right below the driver list. Enter your password, and let it do it’s thing. It may take a while.

4. Generate xorg.conf.

Do this with ‘sudo nvidia-xconfig‘. It’ll write a new file to /etc/X11/xorg.conf. It will also make a backup of an existing xorg.conf if there’s one there to backup.

5. Reboot.

That’s it, you should have compositing working after a reboot.

Be aware that updates can break all of this. After applying almost 200 updates, it reverted me back to the nouveau driver. I had to go through these steps again to get back to the nvidia-304 driver.

It’s possible that step 1 isn’t necessary. I think the nvidia-304 driver would probably get installed when you do step 2. I didn’t try, though.

I’ve often downloaded drivers right from nvidia.com, but was having a terrible time getting them to build this time. Instead, I just went with the nvidia drivers provided by, um, well, whoever provides them, I guess. Using the nvidia-304 driver found in the Ubuntu repositories seems to be working quite well, so I’ll probably never have to do the manual download from nvidia.com again.

This applies to Ubuntu 13.10 Saucy Salamander, and more specifically, the Xubuntu flavor. But, it should work on any of the various flavors of Ubuntu.

Did I mess anything up? If so, please leave a comment here, or you can leave a comment on the Hacker News thread.


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