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(?) The Answer Guy (!)

By James T. Dennis, tag@lists.linuxgazette.net
Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

(?) Higher Resolution X on a Laptop

From Dan Bell on Sat, 16 Jan 1999

(?) I have been a windows users forever, and I got tired of the constant crashing so I have just installed Red Hat 5.2 on my laptop. I travel the world in the telecommunications business. I haven't had one crash since installing Linux. My problem is low resolution on the LCD screen when running Xwindows. Under windows my screen has an 800 x 600 resolution. The best resolution that I can get when installing Xfree is 600 x 480. This is using the probing feature of the installation. I know there must be a way to sharpen the characters an icons. However with my limited knowledge I can't seem to find the answer. Please help or direct me to someone who can help solve this simple problem.

Dan Bell

(!) Personally I find X to be unusable until you can get up to about 1024x768. However, I rarely use any GUI so when I need one I need it to be pretty good.
(When I use Netscape change the "icon" bar to text only, and tweak as many of the setting to "unclutter" the window frames as possible. Then I size it to almost completely fill my current screen --- with the virtual screen panner peekout out above it. That's set to 3x2 --- so I can get to any of the three "top row" screens with just a click and to any of the others with two --- right click on the app title bar to "bury it" then the whole panner is available).
However, back to your question.
You don't give any details about your laptop. So, I can't give any specific suggestions. However I can give some general ones.
First look in the Laptop Support Pages:
... This lists a few hundred models of laptops and provides details about the installation and use of Linux on them. Its an all-volunteer effort (like most of the best projects in Linux) so the reporting can be a bit uneven.
So, look up your model of laptop in that database --- or the closest that you can find. Also read through some of the entries for some other laptops (more or less at random) so you can some idea of general problems and common solutions.
One of the common problems with many laptops is the use of the Neomagic chipset. This is a proprietary chipset for which programming specifications are not openly available. Luckily there is a free binary-only XFree86 "server" for it.
Since you are new to Linux, and presumably Unix and X as well, I'll digress for a moment to clarify a point of terminology that causes greate confusion:
The X Window System is a communications protocol. You have a "display server" (consisting of one or more "screens" a mouse and/or sensor tablet and a keyboard) and a set of clients (various programs that request operations, such as the drawing of windows on the screen, or the reporting of mouse and keyboard events). The clients can be run locally (as most of us do with most of our Linux boxes most of the time --- where the client program is running on the same system as the server) or it might be running remotely (communicating over TCP/IP on port 6000 or so). In either event the client and server communicate through the X protocol over some sort of networking channel (unix domain or TCP/IP sockets).
Anyway, the software driver that responds to video requests for the "clients" (Netscape Navigator, xterm, GhostView, etc) is referred to as a "server." Thus we have different servers for different video cards. Technically I think that there would be different server for different combinations of mouse, keyboard and video cards --- but I think that the XFree86 implementation has been able to consolidate the keyboard and mouse support into a common set of libraries --- so only the video chipset support is sufficiently different between systems to warrant different drivers.
While looking at Kenneth Harker's laptop support pages you should also look in the documentation for your laptop (or contact the manufacturer and beat it out of their support staff). You want to know the video chipset (such as the CT65545 from "Chips and Technologies").
There is a whole section of KHarker's pages devoted to general info about XFree86 on laptops (for Linux and FreeBSD users, et al).
Finally, if these free resources fail you --- consider a commercial solution. There are at least two companies that provide commercial X servers for Linux. Since XFree86 is pretty good --- these companies specialize in laptops and proprietary video cards that won't play nice with the freeware programmers. (Naturally, it would be better for the free software and alternative OS communities to refrain from buying such hardware --- but some of us get stuck with what we've got, so...).
So the two sites I'd check are:
MetroLink Inc. (publishers of Metro-X)
Xig (formerly X Inside Graphics)
... and, of course, you can check the latest info on XFree86 by browsing around on its web site at:
Its possible that your copy of X can drive your video card just fine even though the autodetection code doesn't do it. Unfortunately X configuration for those cases is still a bit of a black art (more art and magic than science).

Copyright © 1999, James T. Dennis
Published in The Linux Gazette Issue 37 February 1999

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