Tuning your Intel graphics card in Ubuntu 16.04

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Eons ago I wrote a guide on how you can install Intel graphics drivers on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. That guide is still good and it should still work but with a few caveats which we will examine below. I have subsequently discovered that further tweaks and tuning are required in order to get that perfect graphics set up.

Assumptions

  • You have Ubuntu 16.04.2 LTS installed, if you have been regularly updating your operating system (normal daily updates) this is what you should be running
  • This is a 64 bit operating system
  • You have an Intel Graphics Video Card installed
  • You have an active internet connection

Install the graphics driver

  • Before you do anything please make sure you computer has a Intel Graphics Card installed:

    [email protected]$ sudo lshw -C video
    *-display
    description: VGA compatible controller
    product: Broadwell-U Integrated Graphics
    vendor: Intel Corporation
    physical id: 2
    bus info: [email protected]:00:02.0
    version: 09
    width: 64 bits
    clock: 33MHz
    capabilities: msi pm vga_controller bus_master cap_list rom
    configuration: driver=i915 latency=0
    resources: irq:45 memory:c3000000-c3ffffff memory:b0000000-bfffffff ioport:6000(size=64)
  • Download the Intel graphics installer. You cannot use the latest installer since it does not support Ubuntu 16.04
  • Install the installer:
    dpkg -i intel-graphics-update-tool_2.0.2_amd64.deb
  • Run the installer and let it install the driver. Follow the guide here.

Living on the edge

Following the guide above should allow you to have a working installation but as I discovered further tuning will be in order. You will need the latest mesa drivers and paraphernalia. Don’t worry if you do not know what these are just know they will enhance your experience.

Ubuntu allows you to install Personal Package Archives (PPA). These are privately maintained repositories that come with the latest goodies for a given piece of software. They are more frequently updated when compared to the official repositories. For example the version of Kodi media player in the official repositories is always behind the official Kodi PPA.

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Using PPAs allows you to live on the edge but it comes with some risks-however remote- of breaking your system. There are several teams who maintain Mesa PPAs out there but the most consistent is the x-swat PPA.To get the latest mesa drivers type the following commands:

  • sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-x-swat/updates
    sudo apt update && sudo apt dist-upgrade
  • Reboot your system and you are done.
  • Should things break you can always reverse the updates by typing the following commands in the terminal:
    sudo ppa-purge ppa:ubuntu-x-swat/updates
    sudo shutdown -r now

    If for some reason after booting you cannot see the logon screen you can always access a terminal by typing Ctrl+Alt+F6 and login into the terminal

NB You should install the graphics drivers first before updating Mesa. If you have the latest Mesa drivers the graphics installer will not work due to a bug that cannot recognize some of the latest drivers. If you have the latest drivers before installing the graphics driver run the ppa-purge command above or one that purges the Mesa PPA you are using, install the Graphics Driver and then update Mesa utils.

Tuning the Card

Sometimes using applications that rely on hardware acceleration like Chrome, Kodi or VLC you will see a lot of flickering which can range from mild to annoying. Try opening YouTube or Facebook and clicking and scrolling around. You video might also freeze if you play it in full screen and get a Chrome notification e.g. from TechZim or Gmail.

To attempt to fix this run the following commands:

sudo gedit /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/20-intel.conf

In gedit make sure you file looks like this:

Section "Device"
        Identifier  "card0"
        Driver      "intel"
        Option      "Backlight"  "intel_backlight"
	Option 	    "AccelMethod" "sna"
	Option      "TearFree" "true"
	Option 	    "DRI" "3"
        BusID       "PCI:0:2:0"
EndSection

NB Do not change the identifier if it does not match what is above. Rather add the option lines that are lacking. The most important ones are the sna, DRI and TearFree. It is possible to set Acceleration method to uxa. Without getting into the technicalities you should know sna is faster and to be preferred. uxa should only be used if something goes wrong.

In my next installment I will be looking at fixing Ubuntu’s sound to allow it to work through HDMI.