Troubles with Ubuntu 12.04 and Radeon HD6450

I haven’t posted anything for some time, primarily because my Linux boxes have been running well. But, that was until, on my desktop machine, I tried to make the switch to the latest long-term support version of Ubuntu. The other reason for not posting for a while is that it has taken me some time to come to grips with a range of boot issues and produce a more-or-less stable system on this machine.

So, if you have an AMD/ATI Radeon video card – especially an HD6450 – then the following tale may be of interest. This will be especially so if you have experienced problems with a blank screen on boot-up (either light-purple or black), or a “split” screen that flickers constantly, with neither situation seemingly allowing you to login. As you may guess, the problem is related to the video driver; however, a specific solution is difficult to pin down on the Internet.

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx) reached end-of-life status on May 9, 2013 which essentially means that there will be no further security updates for this version of the operating system. However, the good news is that Version 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin) will have support through April, 2017.

I have been using Precise on my development machine since its release in 2012, essentially without incident so, with the demise of Lucid, I decided that it was time to move on and install the latest LTS version on my production desktop.

The live-USB version of Precise loaded and ran just fine on the desktop computer. The problems all started when I installed the OS to the hard drive. I tried installing both with and without the on-line updates and the third-party software options but, each time the machine was rebooted at the end of the installation process, I ended up at a blank, light-purple screen.

This was not a situation that I had encountered previously. Normally, if the live-version of Ubuntu runs correctly from a CD (or a bootable USB), the subsequent installation proceeds flawlessly and the computer is immediately usable. Furthermore, my normal trouble-shooting technique – a Google search – failed to turn up a definitive solution. Nevertheless, by adopting suggestions from a series of posts, I was eventually able to develop a working system.

Breaking out of the light-purple, blank screen can be a challenge. Various postings on the web suggest rebooting into recovery mode, or using Ctrl-Alt-F1 to access a command line. I ended up either at a blank black screen, or at a purple login screen that was split down the middle and constantly flickering. Ctrl-Alt-F1 got me to a command prompt and I was then able to logon to the system in text-based mode.

The main requirement to troubleshoot the non-boot issue seems to be to install the “AMD Catalyst Driver for Radeon”. Various versions are available, and a selection tool is available on AMD’s web site (http://support.amd.com/us/gpudownload/Pages/index.aspx). At the time of writing, the latest, stable version for my system (64-bit Ubuntu 12.04 and HD6450) was amd-driver-installer-catalyst-13-4-linux-x86.x86_64.zip.

No doubt, power users with a thorough knowledge of the command line can use the text-based interface to download and install the video driver. I am certainly not sufficiently familiar with using Linux commands and so needed to reboot the machine, using a live-USB, in order to obtain a normal GUI.

Now, it was simple to download the driver from AMD’s web site, unpack the .zip file, set the executable bit on the .run file, and store the driver in the user directory (/home/toaster) of my new Ubuntu 12.04 installation where it would be readily available to use from the command line.

Rebooting the machine brought me back to the “split screen”, and Ctrl-Alt-F1 provided access to the command line. Since the video driver was now available in my user directory, I was able to install it using the command: “sudo bash amd-driver-installer-catalyst-13-4-linux-x86.x86_64.run”. Reading the prompts in “split-screen” mode was a bit difficult but, essentially, I accepted all the defaults and let the process run. A reboot after the installation of the driver successfully loaded the operating system’s GUI.

So far, so good.

Now, the second challenge. For the original installation of Ubuntu 12.04, I had opted to include third-party software but not any updates to the OS. Running Update Manager identified 238 updates (156.2 MB) to be installed. Once this process completed and the machine was restarted, I was once again confronted by a blank black screen!

To cut a long story short, the issue seems to be that updates to the xserver files (one or more of xserver-common, xserver-common-lts-quantal, or xserver-xorg-core-lts-quantal) breaks the ATI Catalyst driver. The fix seems to be to install the video driver once again – which is another reason to locate the driver file in a handy location!

So, for me at least, installation of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS – from scratch – involves two installations of AMD’s proprietary video driver!

References:

Desktop Support for Ubuntu 10.04 LTS & 11.10 Officially Ends
http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2013/05/ubuntu-10-04-11-10-reach-end-of-life

Screen split oddly when OS is installed from a Live CD
http://askubuntu.com/questions/159316/screen-split-oddly-when-os-is-installed-from-a-live-cd

Black Screen on Login
http://askubuntu.com/questions/296163/black-screen-on-login/296188#296188

AMD Graphics Drivers & Software
http://support.amd.com/us/gpudownload/Pages/index.aspx

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