An alternative route to getting a working Ubuntu 11.10 when ATI graphics card fails

So I bought a new Samsung laptop a few weeks ago. It came with Windows 7 pre-installed, and, to my disappointment, I was not able to install any distribution of Linux from the October 2011 – April 2012 generation, which includes Ubuntu 11.10, Fedora 16, Linux Mint 12, etc. The problem I am having is with the AMD ATI graphics card; namely, the default ATI driver doesn’t work with the graphics card. So I couldn’t get any further than the boot menus of said distributions, as Xorg would fail to load and only a blank screen would come up.

I am, however, able to install Debian 6 and Ubuntu 11.04, but I am left with an incorrect screen resolution. This can be easily fixed, though, as I can just manually install the proprietary ATI driver once the system is installed to HD.

I downloaded the ISO for Ubuntu 12.04 Beta, and decided to try it out on my new laptop. I was delighted to find that Xorg recognized the graphics card with no problems, so I checked to see which version of the ATI driver was installed, and found that it was 8.911. So I made the generalization that any Linux distribution with ATI driver earlier than 8.911 (Ubuntu 11.10 generation uses fglrx-8.88) would not work with my graphics card.

The solution to the problem consisted of installing Ubuntu with the Netboot install CD, which can be downloaded from the Ubuntu website, or otherwise found by searching ‘Ubuntu netboot install cd’ on Google.  Once the system has been installed to hard drive, you have two options.  First, if you have any other operating systems present on the hard drive, then you do not need to configure GRUB, and you can just reboot your machine and choose the Ubuntu recovery option on the GRUB menu.  This will take you to a menu where you can choose to enter a command prompt, and here you can connect to your network and install fglrx-updates.

The second option is to find a live CD that can work without any configuration of graphics drivers.  Next, boot into the live environment, and, as root user, mount the partition containing Ubuntu.  Next, mount /dev, /proc, and chroot into your Ubuntu installation.  This can be done with the following commands:

$  mkdir /mnt/ubuntu

$  mount /dev/sda? /mnt/ubuntu

$  mount -o bind /dev /mnt/ubuntu/dev

$  mount -t proc none /mnt/ubuntu/proc

$  LANG=C chroot /mnt/ubuntu /bin/bash

Now you could bring up the options template for the GRUB configuration file, which can be found at /usr/share/grub/default/grub.  Comment out the following lines:

GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT

GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT_QUIET

This will make sure that when you reboot your machine, the GRUB menu will not be hidden before an operating system is loaded.  Update the main GRUB configuration file with the following commands:

$  sudo update-grub

It is now possible to boot into the recovery mode option on the GRUB boot menu, where you can use a command prompt on your Ubuntu installation to install fglrx-updates.

You could also try debootstrapping Ubuntu with the 12.04 Beta live CD. I think the debootstrap version on 11.04 doesn’t have the script for oneiric, so you’d have to use a more recent system. Then you could do everything via chroot. However, I’ve had dpkg errors trying to debootstrap Ubuntu in the past, so maybe you’re better off using the text mode install CD.

Another alternative, and possibly easier, way to solve the problem would be to download the alternative Ubuntu ISO from the Ubuntu website. It is a text mode version made specifically for those who have graphics card problems. It’s basically the same installation as graphical, but only in text mode. Using the Netboot CD, as I have, is a lot more work and configuration. After installing with the alternative CD, you could just load the Ubuntu recovery kernel after you have configured GRUB (if needed) from the boot menu and boot into the command line, where you would do your apt-get install fglrx-updates. Of course, you’d have to know how to connect to your wireless network from the command line, which can be a Googling adventure in itself.