Ubuntu and the dead black screen

About a year or so ago, when Gutsy made its debut, a small and tricky little dilemma appeared in Ubuntu that plagues me even to today.

If I am using a machine that can’t do 24-bit color — and when I say can’t, I mean it lacks the memory or hardware capability — then a default Ubuntu system never gets a graphical screen. In a best-case scenario, it falls back to the console.

At the same time, if the system needs specific framebuffer support, and it’s important to note that some systems don’t get that with Ubuntu, falling back to the console means an empty black screen. No terminals, no console, no video output whatsoever.

Unfortunately, that’s where I am right now, fiddling with an Ubuntu variant built off a recent release, where Ubuntu proper doesn’t allow for a very old video system (it’s the Sotec again 🙄 ), and doesn’t make allowances for peculiar, outdated video cards.

Normal graphics mode can’t get a working graphic screen because X is always pushing 24-bit. So when it falls back to the console, there’s no support for vga16fb and the entire system goes dark. And that’s the way things have been for a long time.

If it weren’t a live CD it would be easy enough to fix. As it is I have to remove splash and quiet from the boot line, watch as the consoles are created, quickly jump to another terminal and insert the framebuffer support with sudo modprobe vga16fb. Then, wait while the system finishes starting. And wait. And wait.

And that’s just to get the console. Beyond that, I’m afraid I don’t have much advice. Ubuntu moves so slowly on a K6-2 that I doubt the wisdom of trying to get X to start properly.

But I’m not giving up on installing. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and the time it takes me to pull the hard drive from the machine and transplant it into another and install from there. … Ah yes, that’s a better idea. 😈

7 thoughts on “Ubuntu and the dead black screen

  1. Michael Douglas

    Can I suggest either the Alternate Install Disc (which should be fine for graphics given it’s the Debian installer that it uses) or trying a different Distro, even if it’s not away from Ubuntu?

    I don’t know if it’s kernel specific, or just Gnome being annoying (I’d need to know where you’re inserting that CLi option you mentioned, and I don’t know) but you might try http://www.crunchbanglinux.org (I’d advise trying the distro anyway, ahaha)

    – Mehall (http://blog.mehall.co.cc)

  2. K.Mandla Post author

    Actually I’ve used those plenty of times. This situation was a distro released as a live CD with an option to run the Ubiquity installer from the boot prompt. But of course, Ubiquity has no text-based equivalent, and so the situation arose that I described above.

    1. Michael Douglas

      Ahh, were you using an Ubuntu derivative?

      Most will offer a script you can wget and run from an Ubuntu CLI install to give you the option to do it that way for hardware such as yours, or hardware that cannot run a Live CD.

      Anyway, Good Linux to you!

  3. dawn

    I remember you could bass boot parameters on the Ubuntu LiveCD, but that was one or two releases ago. Look for it — they should still provide that option. (Or is it not what you need?)

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