Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty) on Sony Vaio SZ640

10 May 2011 16:49

As always, when a new Ubuntu release is done, I'm installing in onto my Sony Vaio SZ series laptop and experience some problems, that I later work on and finally fix.

To let others use this knowledge every half a year a note like this is written onto my blog.


You can read about installation LiveCD issues in a separate blog post. Let's concentrate on things specific to Sony Vaio (mostly the dual-graphics system we have from Sony).

Let's just say it's much better to install Ubuntu using the Intel graphics (the graphics-card switch in STAMINA position) card, since it's supported much much better by Linux.

Installing nVidia drivers

This should be easy, but is not due to a few glitches. Let's get through them step by step:

  1. Have the Ubuntu installed using Intel graphics card (STAMINA mode)
  2. Stop the laptop
  3. Put the graphics-mode switch to SPEED mode
  4. Start the laptop again
  5. Wait till you can log in
  6. Log in. You won't be able to use the Unity desktop, so classic Ubuntu desktop should be launched (if not, choose "Classic Ubuntu (no effects)" from drop-down list when logging in)
  7. Click System » Administration » Additional drivers
  8. Choose recommended driver and click enable. This will download and install the nVidia drivers for you.
  9. Don't reboot yet. You need to blacklist the nouveau driver (it's the open-source 3D nVidia driver attempt). Do this:
    echo blacklist nouveau | sudo tee /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist-nv.conf
  10. OK. Now you can reboot. The nvidia driver should kick in and you should have working Unity desktop

One more thing. Intel 3D drivers are now broken, so you won't have the Unity desktop working in there. Let's fix it!

Make 3D graphics (and Unity desktop) work in both Intel and nVidia

This is basically the same as explained in the previous post, but using separate script (so it's more elegant).

Create executable file /usr/local/bin/detect-gl :

sudo touch /usr/local/bin/detect-gl
sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/detect-gl

Edit it:

sudo gedit /usr/local/bin/detect-gl

Put the following into it:


if ls -l /etc/alternatives/gl_conf | grep nvidia; then

if lspci | grep 'VGA compatible controller: nVidia Corporation'; then

if [ "$link" = "nvidia" -a "$hw" = "intel" ]; then
    update-alternatives --set gl_conf /usr/lib/mesa/ld.so.conf
    killall Xorg

if [ "$link" = "mesa" -a "$hw" = "nvidia" ]; then
    update-alternatives --set gl_conf /usr/lib/nvidia-current/ld.so.conf
    killall Xorg

Call that script from /etc/rc.local (commands from this script are launched on each boot). Open file /etc/rc.local:

sudo gedit /etc/rc.local

before exit 0 line, put the following line:


Your whole file should look more or less like this:

#!/bin/sh -e
# rc.local
# This script is executed at the end of each multiuser runlevel.
# Make sure that the script will "exit 0" on success or any other
# value on error.
# In order to enable or disable this script just change the execution
# bits.
# By default this script does nothing.


exit 0

This script will make sure the proper GL library is used for both graphics cards (Mesa lib for Intel, nVidia lib for nVidia card).

Fixing nVidia backlight issues

This is the most elegant solution I could think of. As the brightness settings almost work (when you press the Fn-F5, Fn-F6 keys, the notification appears and the bar shows you the backlight changes) we'll use D-Bus to listen for backlight change signal to set the backlight using nvclock command.

Install nvclock:

sudo apt-get install nvclock

Now create executable file:

sudo touch /usr/local/bin/nvidia-brightness-helper.py
sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/nvidia-brightness-helper.py

Edit it:

sudo gedit /usr/local/bin/nvidia-brightness-helper.py

Put the following into it:

#!/usr/bin/env python
import dbus, gobject
from subprocess import call
from dbus.mainloop.glib import DBusGMainLoop
def apply_brightness(new_brightness):
    if new_brightness < 15:
        new_brightness = 15
    call(['nvclock', '-S', str(new_brightness)])
# only launch when nVidia is present
if call(['bash',  '-c', 'lspci | grep "VGA compatible controller: nVidia Corporation" 1>/dev/null']) == 0:
    bus = dbus.SessionBus()
    loop = gobject.MainLoop()

Now open your Startup programs configuration dialog and add the script to things started when you log in.

Fixing suspend

I must confess I haven't check the suspend without doing this but suspecting it IS broken like in was in Maverick, I've blacklisted the TPM modules by putting:

blacklist tpm
blacklist tpm_bios
blacklist tpm_tis
blacklist tpm_infineon

into /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist-tpm.conf file.

Poor 3D performance

When running Unity all the 3D games have poor performance. I found the easiest workaround is to log in into Classic Ubuntu (with no effects) desktop, which gives you standard GNOME with no compiz and nice 3D performance for launched apps.

Dual-screen issues

I'm using a dual-screen setup (laptop's LCD + external monitor connected via VGA port). The current version of Ubuntu has multiple issues with this, especially when aligning the screens in vertical (laptop's screen being the bottom one, big LCD the top one). The "dock" or "launcher" if you wish appears on the wrong screen (the small laptop instead of on the big screen). To fix this do this:

xrandr --output VGA1 --primary

Log out and in again after doing this. Launcher is on top screen now :-).

I found another irritating bug: when you plug in a big external monitor into the VGA port, the desktop automatically expands to both monitor (not a bug yet), but on one or both of them, some area is black, so you can't see the menus and windows. Logging out and in is also a workaround for this.

When you log in with an external monitor connected, the desktop is strangely stretched and has some artifacts. Interestingly taping Super button (to show the Ubuntu Dash) and Escape (to hide it) refreshes the screen and it looks OK then.

It's hard to put some windows on the bottom screen (your mouse pointer stops on the bottom of the top screen while dragging). You can move the windows even further down using Alt and dragging by window content (and not the title bar).

Once a window is on the bottom screen, trying to resize it crashes the application and it disappears… The workaround is to resize by holding Alt key and drag with middle mouse button.

Other issues

When using Intel graphics card and Unity, Adobe Flash movies (YouTube for example) shows some artifacts. From time to time they also crash the whole X session (I'm not sure why).

OK, this would be it. Hope this helps someone.

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