Linux Display Settings
By Stephen Bucaro
After you install Linux you usually find your display in a low resolution mode. If
you were installing Windows, you would then install the driver for your video card
and use the Display utility in Control Panel to change to a higher resolution.
Unfortunately, with Linux things are not so easy.
Linux uses a free version of the X Window System called Xfree86 to control your
display. Xfree86 supports VGA, Super VGA, and some accelerated video adapters. If
you have a new video card, or new motherboard with on-board video, you may want
to download the latest version of Xfree86 from
The configuration for Xfree86 is in a file named XF86Config located in
/usr/X11R6/lib/X11. This file is created and edited by a program called Xconfigurator.
In Windows, the monitor is viewed as a "dumb box" driven by a video card which is
controlled by a video driver program. Xconfigurator seems to think that video cards
don't exist and it requires you enter all kinds of obtuse information about your
monitor such as horizontal sync range, vertical sync range, the amount of video
memory, and which clock chip you have.
If you have a no-name monitor like I do, you may not know all of these parameters.
You may get stuck in the display configuration step of Linux installation. This is
one reason why I say "Linux is not ready for prime time". This is how it should work:
Linux detects your video card and configures itself.
On rare occasion, Xconfigurator does detect your "monitor", or you can select your
monitor in Xconfigurator's list. In most cases you can get through the installation by
selecting "Generic VGA, 640 x 480 @ 60 Hz". Then after completing the installation,
you can use Xconfigurator to try to set a higher resolution.
To open Xconfigurator, log in as root and click on the "Terminal emulation program"
button on the task bar. In the terminal window that appears, type Xconfigurator.
Xconfigurator will probe for your video card. If that fails, you will be presented
with a list of monitors. If you can't find your monitor in the list, select one of
the "Generic" options.
You will then have to select a "color depth" and "video mode". After making the
required selections, Xconfigurator will display the message "Can you see this message?"
If you do not click on the "Yes" button within ten seconds, you will be sent back to
Xconfigurator's starting screen. Then you can select different settings and try again.
If none of the Generic options work, select "Custom" and enter some horizontal sync and
vertical sync numbers. Ultimately you should find a setting that works. You may have
to make some adjustments to your monitor to resize, reposition, or remove pin cushion.
Sometimes changing your display setting is not as easy in Linux as it is in Windows,
but the alternative is to continue to use Windows and beg for Bill Gates' permission
to upgrade your hardware (XP product activation).
More Windows Administration Information:
• How to Use the VIM Text Editor in Linux
• Working With Files in Linux
• What is Ubuntu?
• Welcome to the world of Knoppix
• Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) With Ubuntu Linux
• The Linux File System
• Linux Display Settings
• Connecting Linux to the Internet
• What is a Linux Distribution
• Linux Installation CDs vs. Linux "Live" CDs