One of my desktop machines at home is Shuttle SV24 named Precious. It’s a wonderful little computer, but it has video built in, and the graphics chipset (S3 ProSavage PN133 “Twister”) is not very common. Windows has absolutely no problem whatsoever with it, but getting it to work with XFree86 has always been extra-painful. None of the drivers that claim to work with XFree86 version 4.x actually worked for me. One of them even managed to lock up my system so hard I had to remove power to reset it, and when it came back up the root filesystem was corrupted beyond repair. I can’t even imagine how a mere video-card driver managed that particular trick, but I swear it did. So I’ve been stuck using XFree86 version 3, which also means I’m stuck using Debian “stable” (which is ancient) because if I try to use “testing” or “unstable” apt-get keeps trying to upgrade XFree86 for me. It’s all very annoying, really.

Recently I discovered KNOPPIX, which is a Linux distribution that runs directly from CD and auto-detects/auto-configures a lot of hardware quite well. I’ve tried it on a few different machines, and every time it came up all the way from zero to a GUI desktop with a browser and everything without a single click to configure anything. That’s way better than any version of either Linux or Windows has done for me in the past, and I find it very impressive.

So I decided to give KNOPPIX a real test, and try it on my troublesome SV24. Well, it thought it worked. Everything booted fine, none of the X-related processes died, but my screen was blank with a few blue dots. A little experimentation with xwininfo revealed that the system thought it knew where the various windows were, I could even move them around and stuff if I clicked and dragged in the right places, but I had to do it blind because they weren’t actually visible. Maybe there’s some minor tweaking I could do to make it work correctly, but I’d have to say KNOPPIX’s automatic configuration was no match for my freaky hardware.