Technical aside: struggling with Nvidia

If you have an Nvidia card and you run linux, then we are both sorry.  Upon installing your flavour of Linux, you will be whisked away to 1997 just after GRUB has done its thing, since the nvidia kernel driver (painstakingly reverse engineered by an army of open-source Tibetan monks that spent countless, sleepless hours), just cannot keep up with cards.  You will be met with a 1280×764 screen, if you are lucky.  If you are not lucky, your screen enters power-save mode, and there is nothing you can do.  Game over.

This just happened to me.  I committed the rookie mistake of paying too little attention when ordering a new workstation, and BAM!  Here I am stuck with a screen that’s as good as off. 


If you find yourself in this position, here’s what you can do:

1) When GRUB comes up, edit the configuration of the kernel you plan to boot into by pressing ‘e’

2) Add the option ‘nomodeset’ to the end of the kernel arguments.  The line should start with  ‘image’ and point to your kernel somewhere in /boot.  The end of this line should already have a kernel argument containing ‘quiet’.  You’ll want to have ‘quiet nomodeset’.   You should boot ok.

3) Install the proprietary NVIDIA driver.  Sorry, there really isn’t any other way at the moment.  Instructions for how to do it on Debian Squeeze with a backports (i.e recent) kernel are here.  As of this post, you will not need to correct for any shenanigans in the build process, as long as you have installed all the prerequisites such as kernel headers for your specific kernel.

4) Install the recommended nvidia-xconfig, and run it.  Save the output in /etc/X11/xorg.conf.

5) Reboot, you should have a functioning system.