Linux Display Settings

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).

Learn more at

More Windows Administration Information:
• Installing Software on Fedora
• The Fedora 3 Linux File Structure
• Running Windows Applications on Linux
• Migrating to Linux: Installing Software
• Linux Display Settings
• How to install software applications on Linux
• What is a Linux Distribution
• Welcome to the world of Knoppix
• Ubuntu Quick Start
• Basic Linux File and Directory Commands