Nouveau Becomes NVIDIA's New Standard Driver

Feb 22, 2010

The NV driver served for a long time as the standard driver for NVIDIA graphic cards. Now Ubuntu developers have replaced it with Nouveau driver in Ubuntu 10.04. It provides more than just benefits.

Ubuntu's Bryce Harrington announced on February 19 that Nouveau drivers were officially replacing NV drivers for NVIDIA hardware. In fact, he said, "If you own NVIDIA hardware and are not using the proprietary drivers, you will be affected by this change."

The decision to go with Nouveau is based among other things on its use of kernel-mode setting. Thanks to KMS, the kernel already at bootup looks after the correct screen resolution, eliminating any flickering and making a more fluid and attractive boot process for users.

There are additional practical benefits to KMS. Switching between users is easier. Nouveau also supports dual view, running computers across two screens. Suspend and resume operations are also faster. Above all, said Harrington, Nouveau drivers are "more actively developed upstream."

The change isn't without its problems. Tests show that the new driver doesn't work with certain NVIDIA models (a list is included). However, Harrinton claims that most users should benefit from the switchover. Those not having a supported model might have to boot in secure graphics mode and use the old NV or Vesa driver.

The project is currently using Nouveau code backported from kernel 2.6.33, since Ubuntu 10.04 uses 2.6.32 that does not support Noveau KMS code. The test phase until April will thus likely result in some more changes. Nouveau also doesn't support 3D acceleration. The xorg-edgers PPA is likely to deliver a 3D version of the driver sometime in the future, although it involves some risk and isn't officially supported.

Users of NVIDIA's proprietary driver who want 3D support for games and programs, profit only indirectly from the new driver. The proprietary driver hasn't supported kernel-mode setting so far, but at least developers are thinking on it. One good thing is that they want to simplify the post-installation switch from the open Nouveau driver to the proprietary NVIDIA driver. As it is, the best opportunity to check out the new driver might be until February 25, when the third alpha of Ubuntu 10.04 should be released.

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