To Newbies: Tips for Screen Resolution and X Windows. (Revision: 07OCT99)

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Oct 7, 1999, 3:00:00 AM10/7/99

1) Section '7': newsgroup names.
2) Section '6': web site added.
3) Section '8': modification.
4) Section '3' and other: the 'xf86config' PROGRAM should be speld with a
small 'xf' while the config file has capital 'XF'.

I am a new Linux user (started 25SEPT99) and found it all worked fine...
except I couldn't change my screen resolution for X windows. After a week of
searching the Web and posting to newsgroups I finally got it to work -- and
as usual the solution was relatively simple.

So this is to those who are new to Linux and are having trouble configuring
X windows.

1) You need to know as much as possible about your MONITOR and VIDEO CARD.
Information like
I find the terms vary according to where you look but you should know
the following things about your viewing system (monitor and video card)
- Horizontal sync/frequency (monitor)
- Vertical refresh / Refresh rate (monitor)
- vertical & horizontal sync (monitor)
- dot clock info (card)
- chipset (card)
- card name / type

You really should have your manuals for both card and monitor handy. They
ARE invaluable.

2) Read all -- and I mean ALL -- documentation you can find. There is plenty
about on a wide range of topics. I've included some links below (Section 6).

3) There are a number of programs about that can help automate the screen
configuration process. The are:
- xf86Config
- XF86Setup
- Xconfigurator
- kvideogen (if you hade KDE installed)
- xvidtune

These are run from the shell command line or a terminal window by typing the
name (above) at the prompt.

4) You can manuall edit the XF86Config file (not to be confused with the
program) found in the /etc/X11/ directory. There is documentation around
that tells you all about the sections of the file. Programs such as
'xf86Config', 'XF86Setup' and 'Xconfigurator' actually modify and create
this file.
If you are going to play with the file don't forget to make a backup

5) I found my problem when setting up was I was selecting the wrong monitor
in 'xf86Config', 'XF86Setup' and 'Xconfigurator'. Eventuall I ran XF86Setup
and instead of selecting "Super VGA 800x600 @ 56Hz" selected "Non-interlaced
Super VGA 1024x782 @ 60Hz, 800x600 @ 72Hz" and that solved the problem. So
if it doesn't work them play with some options.

6) Web resources:
** The Linux Documentation Project -
** - --> full of documentation
on setting up Linux
** The XFree86 Project - --> Info specific to X
** RedHat - --> Info about the RedHat distribution
(which I'm running)
** --> From another who had X windows
problems and set up a site to help.

These should be a good start. If you go to a Linux documentation site like then look for a section called HOWTO's.

Information on specific topics:
Look for the following titles...
- "XFree86-HOWTO" (try )
- "XWindow-User-HOWTO" (try )
These two can be found in the directory '/usr/doc/HOWTO/' in Lunix
(depending on your installation package).
- "XF86Config(4/5) manual page" on for info on the
XF86Config file and also found by typing: 'man XF86Config' at the shell
command prompt in Linux.

In Linux itself, depending on your version/distribution, there should be a
directory full of documentation (much like the web based HOWTO's) under the
direcotry '/usr/doc/'. Then there should be two directories off this '/FAQ'
and '/HOWTO'. The files in these directores should be found at and and other
documentation/information sites.

7) The command prompt manual.
Type 'man <search>' where search is the name of a program/thing to find
information on it. It is similar to the 'help <keyword>' command of MSDOS.

8) Newsgroup help:
One of the best resources is newsgroups. Ask a question and someone should
be able to give you some sort of help. But a word of advice: if you are
going to ask for help you should supply a bit of information to help us
diagnose your problem. Information should include:
- Monitor specifications
- Video card specifications

And information from Linux, like:
- The contents of you "Monitor", "Device" and "Screen" sections of your
XF86Config file (found in /etc/X11/ directory)
- Type the following command at the command prompt:
X -probeonly &> /tmp/Xprobe.out
Then paste the contents of the file 'Xprobe.out' (in your /tmp
directory) into the message.
- Type the following command at the command prompt:
startx &> /tmp/startx.out
Then exit X windows back to the command prompt. If the prompt
doesn't come up after some time then hit the CTL+C keys to break back to the
prompt. Then paste the contents of 'startx.out' to the message.

These messages will provide us with information about your X
windows/screen configuration.

Note: using the 'X -probeonly &> /tmp/Xprobe.out' and 'startx &>
/tmp/startx.out' produce similar output files (in relation to content).
There are some differences, however using just one, probably the
'X -probeonly' command, should yield sufficient information.

Some newsgroups to subscribe to are:

and there are more about too.

I received this e-mail from Colin Watson after my original post:
Indeed, though note that comp.os.linux.questions and
aren't actually supposed to exist any more, having been replaced by other
groups in the comp.os.linux hierarchy. You should contact your ISP if they
still carry these bogus groups.
So if the two mentioned newsgroups show in your list then you should
probably have a word with your ISP.

Well, I hope that helps you start to fix your problem. If any experienced
Linux users have read this and see any incorrect information or something
that may need to be updated or that they think should be added then please
e-mail at at and I'll make the necessary changes.

Good luck to you all,

Jason Snelders

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