Installing Linux : A present-day Odyssey?
For those of you who know me, the past nine months were a period of inactivity for me, since I was in the army, serving my (mandatory here in Greece) army duty. So now that this is behind me, I decided to put my hand deep in my pocket and start afresh. Meaning that I bought a brand-new sparkling PC for me to play with (you know what they say about men and their toys). I went the Athlon64 route, being an AMD fanboy even since the days I got my 386sx at 33MHz back in 1992, with a PCI-express motherboard powered by the nForce4-SLI chipset. I paired that with a GB of good RAM and a 480W PSU, two 160GB SATA hard disks from my old machine and I was good to go. So first thing I did was to install Windows XP, which at first gave me headaches (it seems the DFI LanParty SLI-DR needs a BIOS update if you pair it with a Venice-class processor, like the 3200+ I got, if you want to install Windows at all; how nice) but once I did the BIOS update (thank god for extra PCs with Internet access in the house) the installation went on flawlessly. I installed the nForce4 chipset drivers, DirectX9c, the .net framework, the Catalyst suite (got myself a X800, which has decent performance and will hold me nicely until the new generation card from ATI hits the street sometime in *snip due to NDA*) and everything was working flawlessly. Sometimes you have to marvel Microsoft´s baby; the architecture the OS was installed on was unavailable when it first came out, and yet; no problems whatsoever during installation.
Now that Windows was installed, it was time for me to install Linux. I had a spare 120GB PATA disk, and decided to dedicate it to Linux all by itself. So I took my Ubuntu CD (another change of heart I had lately – I abandoned my sweet Gentoo for Ubuntu, growing tired of long compilation times) and installed the OS. Installation was not a problem here as well; and after a while I rebooted to Ubuntu. That is where the problems started.
Due to the years I work with Linux, modem detection was never one of my strong points; somehow I always seemed to pick modems that didn´t work with Linux. So what I´ve done is simple really (and is the thing I recommend to those of you with broadband connections) – I got a router. It's a bit more expensive than a simple modem, but once you set it up, you are always online; no need to install drivers for different OSes, deal with conflicts or whatever else. So when Ubuntu rebooted, and tried to access its repositories1 in command-line mode in order to get the latest updates, I had no problem with that. Once that was over, it started (or, to be more exact, tried to start) the graphical environment. Only to fail miserably, dropping me back to the command line prompt. After logging in with my user account (Ubuntu disables logging in with the root account), I did a dmesg2 to see what was wrong. What a surprise – the gfx card was not recognised, so I was dropped back to the command line. Now all I had to do was to use apt-get to get the fglrx3 driver, right? Well, not quite. You see, the version which was in the (stable) repositories did not support my card, so if I wanted to download the latest ATI version, I had to add some repositories by hand (those of you who are Windows users are probably lost at sea by now with all this terminology used here, so read the footnotes ) or inject4 the rpm by hand. I decided the former, so I edited the /etc/apt/sources.list5 file by hand and with the help of the (really helpful and filled to the brim with info) Ubuntu forums I added the repositories I needed, that would also allow me to update several programs that haven´t made it to the official repositories.
So after all that, I finally did an apt-get fglrx-driver (after effectively guessing the name of the driver; plain ¨fglrx¨ wouldn´t work), only to find out that I needed to download another 90something MB of files to update various parts of my system. I thought, ok, no problem – boy, was I wrong. The Ubuntu backport servers are swamped, and the poor guy who maintains them (and has no affiliation with Ubuntu, he´s just an enthusiast) has to decrease the bandwidth usage by crippling download speeds. The result was that the download was hovering above 2kb/s (yes, that´s two kilobytes per second). So I left it overnight to do its thing and went to bed.