Some graphics hardware (aka video cards) may need restricted (non-Free) drivers, even though these drivers are not part of the open source community and cannot be fixed by open source software developers. If you encounter bugs with these closed-source drivers, developers won't be able to help you out due to the closed nature of the code being available that makes the drivers work. You may be able to gain support from the manufacturer itself if it has published the driver itself.
Installing Restricted Drivers
Most of the time, Ubuntu will detect the need to install a restricted driver automatically. You'll see a notification on the system tray asking you to review what drivers are to be installed, and Ubuntu will take care of downloading and installing them.
Should I install a restricted video driver?
The answer to this question is dependent on what video card you have, what you want to do with it, and (perhaps most importantly) personal choice. To determine exactly which video card you have, open a Terminal and enter this command:
lspci | grep VGA
That will return something similar to:
01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: ATI Technologies Inc Radeon Mobility M7 LW [Radeon Mobility 7500]
From this output, you should be able to discern your video card brand and model to choose the proper section below.
The following sections refer to video drivers first by their package name, then by the identifier in parentheses. The identifier is how the driver is named in the xorg.conf and when reconfiguring X, and is how the driver is referred to afterward whenever possible.
If you have an Intel video chip, you do not need a restricted video driver. Intel's official driver is Free Software (open source) and is bundled with Ubuntu (and most other distributions). There are two Intel drivers available:
- xserver-xorg-video-i810 (identifier: i810) - This is the Intel driver included in all Ubuntu versions up to Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn).
- xserver-xorg-video-intel (identifier: intel) - This is a newer version of that driver which adds better resolution-setting support. It is available in Feisty's Universe component for those who wish to try it and will be default in Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy gibbon).
Installing the binary NVIDIA or ATI driver will only break the 3d acceleration provided by the Intel driver.
Ubuntu ships with the open source xserver-xorg-video-nv driver (identifier: nv). This driver does not provide 3d acceleration, and lacks support for other aspects of NVIDIA hardware.
To install the restricted NVIDIA driver, see RestrictedDrivers/NVIDIA.
Ubuntu ships with the open source xserver-xorg-video-ati driver (identifier: ati). This driver provides 3d acceleration through the Radeon X850. (R100 to R400 chips). For newer cards, you must use the ATI restricted driver, xorg-driver-fglrx (identifier: fglrx)
Installing fglrx on a card older than the Radeon 9500 will only break your 3d acceleration with the free ATI driver
To install the restricted ATI driver (fglrx) and to determine whether to use it: see RestrictedDrivers/ATI.
What can you do about it?
Some component manufacturers actively assist in the development of Drivers for their components, while others don't.
If you want to retain full control of your computer, then there are two ways forward:
- Choose only manufacturers who actively help the development of Open Drivers. A good example of this is Creative, who released an open source version of their X-Fi soundcard driver.
- Communicate with the manufacturer of your component who chooses Restricted Drivers and explain what your concerns are.