Ubuntu Drivers

These tips can help you find and install the Ubuntu drivers you need for video cards, printers, scanners and wireless devices.
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Over the years, I've watched as Linux hardware support slowly caught up with proprietary operating systems and, later on, surpassed them altogether thanks to modern Ubuntu drivers, as well as drivers for other distros. Video card, sound card and peripheral support have all seen a massive evolution since the earliest days of Linux on the desktop.

However, despite these gains, some problematic vendors still don't make using Linux very easy. And even though Linux maintains the largest database of retroactive older hardware support in existence, Windows still has some vendors making difficult drivers for select hardware.

In this article, I'll share tips and tricks for avoiding hardware selection headaches, while also ensuring that the hardware you're choosing has usable Ubuntu drivers available.

Video Card Driver Considerations

These days, there is driver support for products made by vendors ranging from VIA and Intel, down to NVIDIA and AMD/ATI. But things can become a bit fuzzy when deciding which video cards are going to provide the best experience for the end user.

For desktop computing, I've found AMD/ATI and NVIDIA are about even in my own experience. However, I've heard that many folks feel strongly that AMD/ATI is on its way to surpassing NVIDIA as the preferred vendor for those seeking the best Ubuntu driver experience for video cards.

On the notebook/netbook front, Intel is still the big winner in this space. With their ever-improving performance and lower power usage, Intel provides ample video rendering performance for most people, despite being an integrated graphics solution.

Now, on to the drivers that power these graphic solutions. Some people feel strongly that Intel doesn't offer great open source drivers, but I beg to differ. The drivers they offer, or more accurately, the drivers Intel delivers are generally pretty solid. Fact is, Ubuntu users are going to be provided with the most stable Intel graphic drivers out of the box. And iff you're interested in working with bleeding edge drivers from Intel, you might carefully investigate this new driver updating program from Intel.

NVIDIA and AMD/ATI drivers, by contrast, will provide you with two different options. NVIDIA users can use the provided open source video driver that is activated after a successful Ubuntu installation. You might be surprised to discover that the NVIDIA open source driver also supports a dual-monitor setup simply by selecting this option under the display settings thanks to RandR compatibility. However, the open source driver falls short with OpenGL support. To use OpenGL video games, you're going to need to follow the following steps to install the proprietary video driver:

  1. Open the Ubuntu Dash and search for Software Sources.
  2. With Software Sources open, browse to the Additional Drivers tab.
  3. Select the radio button for the recommend driver for your NVIDIA card.
  4. Click apply and enjoy.

Open source AMD/ATI video drivers are also great to use, as they're installed out of the box on PCs running AMD/ATI video cards. Like NVIDIA, the AMD/ATI open source video driver does a solid job providing usable dual-monitor support via the display settings. Sadly, this open source driver also lacks the ability to support OpenGL video games very well. This means if you're playing video games requiring OpenGL, you're also going to want to follow these steps:

  1. Open the Ubuntu Dash and search for Software Sources.
  2. With Software Sources open, browse to the Additional Drivers tab.
  3. Select the radio button for the recommend driver for your AMD/ATI card.
  4. Click apply and enjoy.

Printers and Scanners

For most of us, a combined all-in-one printer/scanner is going to be the most common device we use in our day to day printing and scanning. While there are exceptions to this rule where dedicated printers and scanners are still used, most of the Ubuntu drivers you're going to be seeking will be for all-in-one devices.

If you're shopping for a new all-in-one printer, my advice is to stick with HP, regardless of whether it's a laser printer or one of the inkjet variety. No matter which you choose, opting for one made by HP is going to provide you with a great user experience. HP printers are not only supported well by CUPS printing, but the scanner functions of HP all-in-one printers are also well managed by SANE.

HP offers one additional set of tools not found with other printers, called the HP Linux Imaging and Printing toolbox. Also known as HPLIP, this set of printing tools provides HP users with a set of useful features not found on the Ubuntu desktop otherwise. Thanks to HP Ubuntu drivers, HPLIP provides users with status updates, wifi printer setup functionality, ink levels and other information. Trying to manage these same features with non-HP printers is generally doable, but nowhere near as intuitive.

Regardless of which printer you happen to choose, you should make sure the printer drivers for Ubuntu are available on a typical Ubuntu installation. Some printers, however, won't work out of the box and may require you to search elsewhere for compatible drivers. Epson is one such vendor, although some Epson printers will work without any extra hassle. To find out if your Epson printer is supported, you will need to visit the Epson Linux download page and search for your device. Most of the popular Epson printers will have drivers available from the Epson Linux driver search portal.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, printer, scanner, drivers, wireless devices

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