Originally Published: Wednesday, 2 May 2001 Author: Anurag
Published to: learn_articles_firststep/General Page: 1/2 - [Printable]

Troubleshooting the X Install

Do you Fear the Blank Screen of X? If so, Check out Today's Troubleshooting Article on the X Install.

Troubleshooting the X Install (Page One)   Page 1 of 2  >>

What is X?

Early versions of Unix were text based with only a few computer geeks as users. The year 1986 saw the first commercial release of Unix, and today after 15 years, the Unix/Linux is still working to achieve its goal of having a windows-based interface (preferably known as graphical user interface, or a GUI) system, running on every possible hardware in the market. 'X' the name given to the collection of programs that form the graphical user interface for Unix (and Linux) performs the function of inter-linking hardware and user input. A good place to learn more about X and the history of the project is the XFree86.org site, one of the leading sites in the free 'X' project. The site has been providing support, news, documentation and downloads since the first release. The site lacks a lot in terms of design, perhaps ironic for an interface site, but with the massive amount of information the site contains, who needs an artistic site to browse?

Setting up X has been a daunting task in the past. First the Intel's i810 chip set created a few problems and then compatibility with the umpteen video cards that flood the market proved to be a major hassle in setting up X. Today, thanks to efforts taken by the Linux Community including major players such as RedHat, SuSE, the process is a bit simplified. In this article I shall attempt to guide you through an X setup on your system. We'll first look at the basics of a simple install, and then try to cover as many potential problems as possible. We've tried to find a solution for every "blank screen" problem we can find.

The Simple Way: "Good Evening! It's a pleasant Saturday evening and I am trying my hand at installing Linux with X."

Each and every distribution of Linux that exists on planet earth now offers a GUI based setup. The steps mentioned here will not be exactly the same for your distribution, but the process is similar enough that this guide should still be able to help you install X.

During every Linux installation you will eventually come to an option called something like "Use Graphical logging in." Once the selection has been made, the install program will try to auto-detect your graphics card. If the setup program has a problem here try to locate the option for "Customize Graphical Login." This is necessary because your graphic card will support not every color mode and resolution. Then click on preview/test this configuration option. If everything seems to be fine, you will get a confirmation box with a self-timer. Clicking on "Yes" will commit these settings as your default options.

If your screen goes blank press "Ctrl-Alt-Backspace" and the X server shall be killed. Select some other low resolution and/or color mode. Setting up X at times is a trial and error process and there are no hard and fast rules defined for it.

Getting a bit tougher

Once the installation is complete and you reboot your system (the rebooting procedure is done automatically by your distribution, don't forget to remove the Linux CD before rebooting) you can await a graphical login interface.

Again at this stage it is also possible that your monitor will go blank This time press "Ctrl-Alt-F1" and a shell based login prompt pops up. Give your root login and password, and type reboot at the prompt. After rebooting, type "linux init 2" at the LILO prompt.

LiLo (Linux Loader): If a system has more than one OS (Operating System) the LiLo gives the user a choice between booting into each system. It gives us the luxury of having two or more OS'es and forms an integral part of the system.

This command shall force LiLo to login using shell mode, similar to booting Microsoft Windows in "safe mode". At this stage you can try the setup utility that comes with the distribution itself. Like "setup" for RedHat or "YaST" for SuSE. Try tweaking around with these utilities by changing the resolution, color mode or horizontal/vertical frequency of your monitor. This could solve the blank screen problem.

Bah! Nothing seems to work: "It's 4.00 am in the morning and this Linux thing refuses to work....".


There's another way to tame the penguin. This way does require you to collect some data about your system before beginning. First make sure that you know the chip set of the graphic card that you are using, the monitor make, along with the monitor specs such as Horizontal and Vertical frequency. Record your monitor's maximum possible color depth. Knowing the chip set is useful because it determines what kind of server to use whilst configuring X. You might want to think about keeping your monitor's manual near you during installation.

Troubleshooting the X Install (Page One)   Page 1 of 2  >>