Family’s IT Consultant: The Computer Display

In today’s world of technological wonders few of us wouldn’t welcome some guidance. And since my friends and relatives know I work with computers they often ask me to help solve various issues and help them choose their new electronic devices. Actually it might have been worse… not that I’m not helpful guy (I am friendly) but I’m not the most communicative person out there so they don’t bother me as much as they might probably wanted to. On the other hand quite a lot of my friends are IT experts 🙂

Anyway, my little niece Teda will be starting school this fall. She already has a room of her own, her parents are buying her textbooks and other school aids and finally a computer. We decided to use an older computer to keep the cost down and invest instead in a good display.

The computers I work with are quite specific and I had to brush up a little bit my knowledge of general purpose desktop systems. For example my personal computer is a 3 years old IBM ThinkPad X41 (12″ screen) and I’m totally satisfied with it’s performance and features. The rest are servers with 8 or more hard drives and 8 CPU cores each.

We decided to go for a 19″ or 20″ wide screen TFT LCD display but also weren’t willing to pay more than 450 leva (~$350). First things first and I went for learning more about various types of current TFT technologies on the market. I almost instantly ruled out TN displays and focused on MVA panels since IPS wouldn’t fit in our price range. Most of the MVA panels are more pricey than we liked but finally I spotted an Asus PW201 that according to the manufacturer’s specifications was built with a P-MVA panel and also its price has recently dropped from about 700 leva to 449 leva.

This price drop seemed suspicious to me so I called the shop to make sure that this particular model and batch is P-MVA and not TN. After they assured me several times that this is a P-MVA panel (they called their warehouse) I proceeded to order but still suspicious I wrote in the order’s comment field: “If you are not sure whether this monitor is of P-MVA type please cancel the order”.

Finally the display arrived. I paid to the delivery guy and opened the box. Oh boy, this thing looks splendid. Very stylish. It has integrated stereo speakers although expectedly the sound quality is mediocre. The integrated USB hub is very convenient because you don’t need to crawl under the desk in order to plug USB devices. Audio, USB and VGA cables run together so despite using DVI for video you’ll have to use the VGA cable as well. The buttons on the front are actually small touch sensitive areas and react somewhat erratically. My overall impressions about PW201 are very good. It is definitely worth its price.

I intended to install Kubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) so I hooked up monitor’s DVI port to the PC, attached the keyboard and… suddenly realised I don’t have an optical drive on this PC. Okay let’s try network install 🙂 I followed the instructions listed at http://wiki.koeln.ccc.de/index.php/Ubuntu_PXE_Install but since I wanted to install Kubuntu I opted for “console only” installation in the Ubuntu installer. After the installation had finished I installed the rest of the Kubuntu with:

sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop

So far so good. The X server detected the Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 graphics adapter and used nv to drive it. It properly detected the monitor’s properties and started in the panel’s native resolution of 1680×1050. Unfortunately the nv opnesource driver lacks 3D acceleration (because Nvidia refuses to provide the hardware specifications needed to add 3D support) and this is where I spent 3 hours trying to get the proprietary nvidia driver to work properly with my setup. Most of the time was spent trying to set it up to use 1680×1050 but nvidia driver kept thinking that PW201 has maximum pixel clock of 135 MHz when it’s actually 146 MHz. Finally I found this set of options working for me:

Section “Device”
Identifier “GeForce4 MX 440 with AGP8X”
Driver “nvidia”
Option “ExactModeTimingsDVI” “true”
Option “NoBandWidthTest” “true”
Option “ModeValidation” “NoDFPNativeResolutionCheck, NoEdidMaxPClkCheck, NoMaxPClkCheck”
EndSection

This did the trick but after only few minutes of playing video with mplayer and Xv (Xvideo) output driver the video window started to show only colorful noise. Tried OpenGL output driver and worked better but used 95% of the CPU vs. 55% for Xv (that’s AMD Athlon XP 1800+). Moreover after half an hour video artefacts started to appear all over the screen and I reverted to the “nv” driver.

I don’t know whether this is a software/driver problem or maybe the graphics adapter is having some issues but since it works with the nv driver (and my niece doesn’t need 3D acceleration) I’ll stick with it for now.

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One Response to Family’s IT Consultant: The Computer Display

  1. Antonia says:

    Teda — the 6 y/o Kubuntu user 🙂 As a matter of fact she’s violating her father’s laptop (Kubuntu again) since she was 4. Acceleration 🙂

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