Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Gentoo Series Part I : Past and Present

For the first post of my multi-part Gentoo blog series, I will be discussing the quirks I've encountered, the desired goal of my objectives, and the path to take to get there.

The purpose of the following Gentoo blog posts is to document how I went from the base command-line Gentoo system to a 3D-accelerated environment using the proprietary ATI drivers. Unfortunately, those, mixed with some quirks of my Alienware M17 machine, make for a lot of frustrations and cursing. Something hopefully those who read this blog will avoid, if you are following in these footsteps.

In retrospect, I was quite lucky for things to turn out the way they did.
It all started when I purchased this laptop a year back, in December 2008. The school-based laptops had a ton of resource-consuming Windows apps on them (Anti-virus for example) that severely degraded performance. The screens were poor, small (1200x800, so not that horrible), and they had the most gimped left-shift-key I've witnessed on a computer. Major productivity killers.
So I ordered this baby, with 1920x1200 resolution, dedicated video, but otherwise quite plain. Ever since discovering GNU/Linux in 2005 way back, when Ubuntu 6.10 was out and new, it had been my distro of choice. Well, Kubuntu to be exact, and I had not had experience in anything else but Fedora Core (not a great experience). Upon the laptop's arrival, I installed Ubuntu 8.10, the most recent at the time.

Upon first booting up into the system, I was met with the ugly 'no video driver' resolution desktop. The newest driver at the time, the Catalyst 8.12, provided excellent 3D and all was right with the world when installed. It could be run via command line installer without any additional configuration or patches.

And so I used such a system for about a year until KDE 4.3 came out. For those who have used Kubuntu 8.10, there is no official (stable) kde 4.3. Unless you use a nightly repository or compile from source, chances are you won't get it. Being a fan of the K Desktop Environment, this slowly nagged at me.

Now 3D acceleration is important to me, as it's required to play Warcraft 3, one of the few games I play on a constant basis. This is important, as a few other distributions I tried to get kde 4.3 off of, arch, gentoo, and future ubuntu versions, wouldn't give me 3D, or so I thought.
At this time, it's worth mentioning that there's an issue with either the Alienware M17 hardware, the ATI HD Radeon 3870, or the Catalyst drivers that prevent the desktop from appearing on the laptop screen. It's a strange issue, where plugging in an external monitor will show the desktop, the but the laptop lcd remains black (but lit up). It holds true on Ubuntu 9.10 with Catalyst 9.10/9.12 drivers. The HD Radeon 3870 is part of the R600 series.

So now I'm in the situation where I've been trying to migrate from a working, but old system to a new, no-3D system. It seemed like everytime I would migrate to another distribution, the lack of 3D drivers would force me back to the Kubuntu 8.10 system.

By this time, total hours spent attempting to get a newer working system with 3D has probably reached 30-40 hours (non-continuous, over a year period)
I haven't installed Gentoo by this point, only Ubuntu derivatives and Archlinux. Arch worked fine, but no 3D.

Gentoo was compiled with the core2, -pipe and -O2 optimizations. Once the base system was up and running, X and KDE quickly followed. It took about ~30 hours total including download times to get it set up and compiled with most of my programs.
Even though there was no 3D at this point, it ran deadly fast with the open-source 2D ati drivers.
Things were near-instant opening and closing. Sure, the fan was running constantly because the driver doesn't yet have proper power management, but things worked great.
It was about this time that frustration at not having 3d set in.
After installing Ubuntu 8.10 alongside Gentoo, I went in and began to check all the versions of packages that I felt would affect 3D.

This is the point where I noticed the difference in Xorg versions.
Gentoo had the newest 1.7 series, whereas Ubuntu 8.10 had 1.5.2. In a nutshell, I figured that I'd have to install the same version of packages in order to get the same setup I had in Ubuntu, which theoretically should work fine.

And so concludes the first part of the Gentoo series. This was the first step I took to getting 3D on Gentoo. And to be frank, it was the easiest part.

Stay tuned for the next part, documenting resource and configurations used in getting it setup properly.
It's loads of fun, with a bit of patching, lots of forum scrounging, and lots of compiling.

NP out.

1 comment:

Zaal said...

Linux can be a very powerful OS for those that have the patience to learn it. I must commend you on your perseverance. Though I can use a system with Linux installed, it's definitely not the OS I am most proficient at.

Keep up the articles. Like reading about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of alternate OS usage.

Good luck mate.