Linux and hybrid graphics cards

I recently bought a Dell laptop (Vostro 3300) and directly installed Fedora 14 on it. Everything worked out of the box, I just needed to install Broadcom wireless driver.

But, I was wrong! The laptop come with a Nvidia card, and checking the output of lspci, I found an Intel VGA card too. So I start reading why I have a Nvidia and an Intel cards in my laptop to find the new cool technology : Optimus graphics from Nvidia…

This Optimus thing work by having a low power card (in that case, the Intel one) for everyday use and a powerful card (Nvidia) for 3D effects. ATI have something like this too, with another marketing name. The problem is that these technologies are not supported on Linux.

Nvidia said they have no plan on supporting it : http://www.nvnews.net/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=144750

I don’t really care about switching graphics cards when I use my laptop. But right now, the situation is that I am stuck with the Intel one, with no means of using the Nvidia card. More, the Nvidia card is always powered, so, in place of saving power, it use more!

There is some effort to make this work with the “nouveau” driver. I will follow the development to see how well it advance : http://linux-hybrid-graphics.blogspot.com/

It amaze me that big company like Intel and Nvidia release something with no Linux support today…

9 thoughts on “Linux and hybrid graphics cards

  1. Lenovo ThinkPads started using the ATI version of this, and later switched to Nvidia. There is an option on the BIOS of my T500 that let you select from the modes: Integrated, Discrete, Switchable. that option is what I use because as you, I don not care to switch chipsets on the fly but I do not want 2 chipsets turned on simultaneously

    Personally, I just wish switchable GPUs just die, it is an horrible hack in order to not design a GPU that is able to scale back its power consumption

  2. yeah, you can probably find a BIOS setting that’ll let you boot with the NVIDIA card powered off. In practical terms the switching function would be entirely useless on Linux even if it worked, because the intel driver gives better performance than nouveau even though the NVIDIA hardware is theoretically more powerful. So there’s just no reason to switch to the NVIDIA card. It’d only be any practical use if NVIDIA supported it in the proprietary driver.

    • I would if I could… I don’t have any option like this in my BIOS and it seems that Dell removed it recently (because I saw a screenshot of a previous version with the option in it).

      Don’t know why…

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  4. I know someone who uses a laptop with a chipset like this. He has to use windows to select the video card and reboot into linux. I believe it resets itself under certain conditions (a full power down, perhaps), but I don’t recall exactly. It’s far from ideal, but maybe you can get away with that for a while.

  5. I currently own a M11x R2 with Optimus on it. There is NO way to make Nvidia Optimus work under Ubuntu Linux ( or whatever distro you work with )

    If you have a Manual Switch or a Option in the Bios to change your discrete graphics, where lucky you. For those who don’t have there are ways to Disable Nvidia Card to save 2-3 hour of batterie and work on the Intel Chipset.

  6. Any reliable way of switching off M11X R2 under Ubuntu 10.10 would be greatly appreciated. I tried several techniques listed in this Ubuntu forum thread, but didn’t have any luck. I tried this technique, for instance:

    http://ubuntuforums.org/showpost.php?p=10153137&postcount=168

    No dice. I started following a thread from Fedora as well, but Ubuntu is different enough that I wasn’t able to replicate the technique completely.

    http://forums.fedoraforum.org/showpost.php?p=1402584&postcount=45

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