Ubuntu 9.04 on the Sony Vaio P – with desktop effects!

Picked up one of these fantastic pieces of hardware earlier in the week. It came with Vista Home Basic, which ran… poorly (refraining from use of expletives and vulgar metaphors).

I promptly wiped the lot and put on Ubuntu but then ran into the issue of hardware support… turns out the graphics chipset used in this little beast (Intel GMA500) is actually a weird mutation of a PowerVR chipset with some 2D/mpeg acceleration thrown on top. And until recently, the driver support under Linux for this chipset (moniker “Poulsbo”) was horrific…. the best you could ask for was either running under VESA or fbdev, and *maybe* getting the nice 1600×768 resolution (and weird aspect ratio that goes with it) but it was dog slow. Others had success using the “psb” driver, but only under 2D.

Today, I’m going to show you how to run it with full 3D support and composite/desktop effects under Ubuntu.

First obviously, you need to install the damn thing… seeing as the P doesn’t have an optical drive, you either need to use uNetBootin to create a bootable flash drive, or do what I did, get lazy and use an external USB optical drive.

Success. I went with XFS for the root filesystem simply because the benchmarks showed it outperforms both Ext3 and Ext4, and considering the P comes with a 4200rpm IDE drive (running in UDMA5, or 100MB/sec) I wanted the best filesystem performance possible… yes, I could have partitioned judiciously to keep seek times down etc etc but honestly… I couldn’t be bothered. I have a 32GB solid state drive in the mail, and that’ll take care of seek times.

Everything runs perfectly with the install, and there are no freaky drivers needed for any devices except the graphics card. You should end up booting into Ubuntu, but the screen res will be lower (it still has the right aspect ratio however, so it won’t look squished).

Now…. fire up Synaptic (System -> Administration -> Synaptic Package Manager) and go to Settings -> Software Sources. Under the “Third-Party Software” tab you need to add these two repositories:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/ubuntu-mobile/ppa/ubuntu jaunty main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/ubuntu-mobile/ppa/ubuntu jaunty main

Thanks to Brian White for this step as it negates the need to copy/paste keys around the place…. drop to a terminal,  then do the following:

gpg –keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com –recv C6598A30
gpg –export –armor C6598A30 | sudo apt-key add -

Back to Synaptic! Click “reload” and it should go off and fetch a whole bunch of new package info. When it’s done, type “poulsbo-driver” into the quicksearch field. From the narrowed down list, select poulsbo-driver-2d, poulsbo-driver-3d, and I *think* it should be already selected as a dependency, but also select psb-kernel-headers, psb-firmware, psb-kernel-source and xserver-xorg-video-psb. I’m uncertain here because I went a slightly roundabout way to get to this point, but still had success.

Click “Apply”.

Open up Terminal (Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal) and edit (using vi, nano, whatever editor you like) /boot/grub/menu.lst.

You should find a line that looks like this (your root UUID and kernel version will/may vary)

kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.28-13-generic root=UUID=c34d1d57-59d3-4f6f-abc1-fd83aea4 ro quiet splash

Change it to this (bold is to emphasise what needs changing)

kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.28-13-generic root=UUID=c34d1d57-59d3-4f6f-abc1-fd83aea4 ro quiet nosplash mem=1500mb

This tells grub to force the kernel to recognise only 1500mb of the installed 2GB, leaving 500mb free for the graphics adapter to use. The “nosplash” option prevents any sexy graphics being displayed during boot. I’m not sure if this is *essential* but it was in another write-up that I followed. I may try removing it to see what happens.

Also, edit /usr/bin/compiz and around line 62 you should see something like this:

WHITELIST=”nvidia intel ati radeon i810 fglrx”

Change it to this:

WHITELIST=”psb nvidia intel ati radeon i810 fglrx”

This is so compiz will *actually start* and not just die because it feels like it.

Save that file, and reboot… if all has gone well, you should see GDM firing up in hi-res goodness. If not and you get some message whinging about video settings… click Ctrl+Alt+1, login with your usual creds, type “sudo bash” to get root access (password is the same as your user password) and type “/etc/init.d/gdm stop” to kill GDM, then “modprobe psb”. If the psb module wasn’t loaded before, you will see the difference… the screen res on the console will suddenly go native and the text will be *tiny*. Then just type “gdm” to get gdm to start up again.

If you’re back in, and things look good, and the res is nice and sharp, log in, click System -> Preferences -> Appearance and click the Visual Effects tab. I chose “Normal” just to get things started… if it goes well you should get a message like “Do you want to keep these settings” etc… say yes! If any windows you had open appear to have lost their borders, don’t fret… just close whatever app it was and reopen and everything should be fine.

I also installed compizconfig-settings-manager to fine tune the compiz setup… so I get the rotating desktop etc, and it all looks really nice. All in all, it performs really well on what is a sub-$1000 netbook that uses about 6 watts of power under normal load, so I’m really impressed.

Some things that worked for me out of the box were wifi (with WPA) and my 3G USB modem… plugged it in, selected a carrier, and it worked straight away. I think the guys at Ubuntu have really gotten their act together making this a polished OS… if the only thing needed is a bit of tinkering/tweaking to get a new, poorly supported graphics chipset working… that’s pretty good. It performs better under Ubuntu than it did under Vista.

  1. jack sparrow says:

    I think the sony P series is quite stylish. thanks for the tutorial though. :-)

  2. Lyosha says:

    Can you change brightness in Ubuntu? How about suspend and hibernate, do they work? Thanks!

    • Suspend and hibernate don’t work, and the screen brightness buttons don’t work….. *however* changing from AC to battery power instantly causes the OS to adjust the brightness (complete with nice overlay showing the current brightness level) so I imagine if you do some funky things with key bindings, you might get the Fn + F5/F6 keys to do their thing.

  3. DC says:

    Great post, thanks ! I want to try this but on a Fujitsu U2010 / U820. Can you let us know what sort of video playback performance you are getting under Ubuntu? And what is the memory footprint from running compiz?

    • Memory footprint appears to be bugger-all. Video playback through YouTube is a little bit choppy when it first starts up, especially when YouTube overlays the ads at the beginning of the video…. I tried playing full 1080p video with expected results (great sound, black screen).

      Regular video playback (AVI files etc) leaves a bit to be desired…. runs OK if you keep it fairly small, but if you fullscreen it, it gets jumpy. That, and it slows everything to a crawl. So the driver definitely needs a lot of work…. I don’t use mine for video playback or any sort of multimedia playback, I just use it for note taking, terminal work, web browsing etc…. I can pretty comfortably do my job from anywhere with 3G or wifi coverage.

  4. Rick says:

    Thank you very much for this how-to! I was just about ready to sell my MSI-X320 because I could not get Ubuntu to work properly (fast enough). This helps a bit, browsing/scrolling is still very slow, but this is very helpful!

    Now let’s hope the poulsbo driver will get some open source love from intel!

  5. Your ppa.key text didn’t seem to work when cut and paste, I ended up having to run -

    apt-key adv –keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com –recv-keys c6598a30

    Also, if you select the poulsbo-driver-3d package almost everything else is automatically selected, as a dependancy of the poulsbo-driver-3d, with the exception of psb-firmware.

    Perhaps it would be worthwhile to “bold” both psb-firmware and poulsbo-driver-3d in your text.

  6. The key shown above would not import.

    I did this instead:

    gpg –keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com –recv C6598A30

    gpg –export –armor C6598A30 | sudo apt-key add -

    I’m still in the process of going through and trying the rest of the directions. video better than vesafb would be nice once in a while.

    • You’re quite right…. when I rebuilt with the SSD those steps with the key didn’t work for me either, even though I *swear* that’s the way I did it the first time…. anyway, I also found the solution you posted there. I’ll edit the steps to include that code instead. Thanks!

  7. Mauricio Desiderio says:

    Richard, thanks a lot for the great post. I have been trying different solutions to get a version of linux in my vaio P that works for what I need and this solution is by far the best. (jaunty + poulsbo drivers)

    However from time to time it completely freezes, I can still move the mouse though. ctrl+alt+backspace doesn’t work, neither does ctrl+alt+f1 or anything else in my keybord. All I can do is a hard power down.

    Have you experienced anything like that? It is really random, it happened while using Firefox, Eclipse, the package manager or just idle on the desktop.

    I thought it could be the processor overheating, so I throttled it down and created a script to log the temperature, and it doesn’t seem to be it.

    Without the psb drivers it does not freeze, also Fedora 11 does not freeze but it has very slow graphics, what makes me wonder if the graphics card is overheating.

    I am sorry I am a little newbie to linux, and I don’t really know in which logs I should look at to get some insight. I would appreciate if you could give me a few tips.

    Thanks a lot!

    • Yeah I get the occasional lock-up…. seems to be totally random. Either the whole thing will freeze (no mouse movement) or everything minus mouse… but like you said, Ctrl+alt+F1 and ctrl+alt+backspace don’t work.

      Hopefully as the driver matures a bit, this issue will be addressed.

      Thanks for the comments!

  8. you guide lack details..

    you forgot to add this error.,

    W: GPG error: http://ppa.launchpad.net jaunty Release: The following signatures couldn’t be verified because the public key is not available: NO_PUBKEY 99D6B21CC6598A30

    • Richard Walker says:

      Sorry to hear that…. I just tried it again (on Debian this time) and it worked for me:

      [root@server:/home/richard]# gpg –keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com –recv C6598A30
      gpg: requesting key C6598A30 from hkp server keyserver.ubuntu.com
      gpg: key C6598A30: public key “Launchpad PPA for Ubuntu Mobile Team” imported
      gpg: Total number processed: 1
      gpg: imported: 1 (RSA: 1)

      [root@server:/home/richard]# gpg –export –armor C6598A30 | sudo apt-key add -

      Maybe try it again but just check your text? Note that with this font/style the –recv, –keyserver, –export and –armor commands may look like they’re only single hyphens… it’s actually two hyphens. Hope that helps.

  9. DC says:

    For the freeze/lock-ups, this might work


    In case anyone gets a graphics error after routine updates (I did and wasted a couple of hours looking for the solution) then you can try remove and then install psb-kernel-source. Thanks to Wolf Rogner and pahutane for posting solutions

    HW video acceleration seems to be possible via a patched mPlayer (VA-API version). Still working on getting it working though

  10. Mauricio Desiderio says:

    I think I solve the occasional lock-up problem. I am still testing, but i left my Vaio P running overnight and it was fine in the morning. That used to always cause a lock-up.

    What I did was add the following lines to the Device section of my /etc/X11/xorg.conf:

    Option “AccelMethod” “exa”
    Option “MigrationHeuristic” “greedy”
    Option “NoDDC”

    Like I said I am a newbie, so I am not really sure what these options mean, but it seems to have done the trick!

  11. The line:

    Option “MigrationHeuristic” “greedy”

    is what you need to solve the crashes. It also rather improves performance.

    If anyone experiences the system pausing during boot until you hit a key, and/or the system clock consistently losing time, you want to add this kernel parameter:


    to your bootloader configuration.

  12. justin stargell says:

    hi i have a acer aspire one 751h and amazeingly when i installed Eeebuntu then kde then tried to run compiz it worked with no error now it is some what slow and the acer uses the notoruous gma 500. but they must be doing something becouse wen i checked my xorg.conf all the options for better performance where already changed and when i went to numerous forms to see what could be done to improve performance it was already done. aha so do you think this could be a sign that intel or conanical is doing something with these god for saken drivers???? and also what kind of performance do you get on your vaio p???? another thing that is very weird is that if i leve my computer on for a long peroid of time compiz performance becomes better in things like closeing and opening windows desktop cube etc….. what do you guys think could be happening?

  13. Any luck with the suspend/hybernate? I tried this method, but the device felt very unstable, it would lock up randomly, as well as the screen was very laggy.

    I ended up going for Win7, which doesn’t really appeal to me, but hey it works.

    Hows the overall feel for you guys? Maybe I missed something and gave up too quickly.


  14. Christian says:

    What about the internal 3G modem – is it supported out of the box as well (Vaio model VGN-P21Z)? I can’t find any conclusive answer to that, and the only review from one user I found (on several boards) was that he found no support for the internal modem…

    As you wrote “…my 3G USB modem…” I take it you used an external one.


  15. Ferdinando says:

    do you know if the situation improved with ubuntu 9.10? do you recommend the netbook remix for the vaio p?

  16. paul says:

    Thanks for the write-up Rich. I have a Vaio P (VGN-P25G) which i couldn’t get speedy graphics on Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix using this or other guides around. So i dropped back Ubuntu 9.04 desktop version and had it working in minutes!

  1. There are no trackbacks for this post yet.

Leave a Reply