Ubuntu and OpenSUSE have been my top choices of Linux distros over the years. I have been using Ubuntu for quite a while and one thing I really like about it is its apt-get package management system. But the GNOME GUI in Ubuntu seems to be quite crude. Also, despite its ever increasing popularity, its hardware support is still not as good as I had hoped, at least in my case.

After I purchased a 24 inch LCD, I noticed that Ubuntu would not support it’s native 1920×1200 resolution even though it correctly identified my four-years-old ATI Radeon 9200 SE graphics card. I tried many different workarounds (e.g. manually tuning xorg.conf, using ATI native display drivers, etc.) but without any luck. It seems that the maximum resolution I could get under Ubuntu 7.10 is 1280×1024.

So, to keep the long story short, I decided to give the latest OpenSUSE distro (10.3) a try. OpenSUSE uses GRUB as it’s default partition manager. When it was time to reboot after the installation, I was surprised to be greeted by a boot loader error message. Basically, GRUB exited with error number 17. At first I thought that somehow I was not paying enough attention to the partition parameters and somehow chose a boot partition that was too large… instead of monkeying around, I decided to install a second time. But again, I got the same GRUB 17 error message.

This seems to be a rather strange problem as I have been installing Linux for years and have never seen the boot loader failed before. Puzzled, I searched the internet for answers. There are many posts regarding this particular GRUB error, and they seem to suggest that somehow the boot loader failed to recognize the disk’s geometry. I tried a couple of suggestions (one of which seemed really promising, it suggested that this was caused by BIOS reporting the wrong information. It suggested that I disable the DMA settings of the harddrive in BIOS and this would force the boot loader to figure out the disk geometry instead of relying on BIOS), but non seemed to have worked.

Even more puzzled, I decided to go through the installation process again. This time, I chose to use LILO boot loader instead of the default GRUB… and it worked! And best of all, OpenSUSE 10.3 recognized my graphic card (ATI Rage 9200 SE) without any problem and set the resolution correctly to 1920×1200.

It is pretty clear that GRUB has some minor "annoyance" to fix. My PC is equipped with two SATA drives and 1 PATA harddrive. One of the SATA drive is used for Windows XP and I used the PATA drive for Linux installation. So it is possible that this setup is more complex than most of the Linux installations and GRUB had some difficulty figuring out the disk geometries. Nevertheless, LILO still rules.


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