nVidia versus fonts!

Tags: Gentoo, Linux, Nvidia, X.org, driver

Well, looks like disabling AGP resulted in a stable system. No crashes so far (since yesterday).

However, as soon as I started X with nvidia driver, I could notice something wrong… Fonts of most applications were smaller! Both Psi (QT application) and X-Chat (GTK application) displayed fonts way too small. So, I started hunting the cause of this…

When using nv driver, it correctly autodetects my screen size (280x210mm) and sets DPI to 92x92. However, when running nvidia driver, it sets DPI to 72x72 and screen size to 361x271mm. You can see these values by running xdpyinfo | grep -B1 dot (as described at nVidia driver README). You can also see the screen size (but not DPI) using xrandr command.

Well, the first thought was to set the screen size manually, in /etc/X11/xorg.conf. So I added DisplaySize 280 210 to the "Monitor" section. Then I restarted X and… no change. The xdpyinfo still showed the same DPI and resolution.

Conclusion 1: nvidia driver ignores DisplaySize setting.

Asking at #nvidia, people told me set DPI. So I tried it.

There are a couple of ways of doing it. One of them is using the -dpi command-line parameter. Note that:

startx -dpi 75x75

does not work. You must use:

startx -- -dpi 75x75

There is a reason for that (read the startx manpage to learn). Only parameters after -- are passed to X server (the others are passed to client, and also define it). The manpage has three examples:

startx -- -depth 16
startx -- -dpi 100
startx -- -layout Multihead

Well, back on-topic, I tried to run startx using the DPI parameter. It worked, the fonts are now at their normal size. In addition, it also changed the screen dimensions.

Conclusion 2: Setting the correct DPI solves the font-size problems (as Chapter 5 - Common Problems explains).

To avoid passing -dpi parameter all the time, I added the following lines to “Device” section corresponding to my videocard with nvidia driver:

Option "UseEdidDpi"   "false"
Option "Dpi"          "92 x 92"

Not setting the "UseEdidDpi" option causes nvidia driver ignore the "Dpi" option and set the DPI based on some EDID info, or based on telepathic powers.

After those tries (a few more than listed here), and after reading the Appendix Y - Dots Per Inch, I finally understood how it works:

Conclusion 3: nvidia calculates the screen dimensions based on DPI and resolution (1024/92dpi = 283mm; 768/92dpi = 212mm).

So, if you want to display fonts at the correct size on your screen, DON’T waste time setting "DisplaySize". Instead, measure your monitor width (only the viewable area), convert that to inches, and divide your resolution by it. Set this value as "Dpi" option, and don’t forget to set "UseEdidDpi" to "false". Thanks nVidia for this.

This is completely wrong, in my opinion. Following the way nvidia behaves, the monitor dimensions are the variable to be calculated. In other words, according to nvidia driver, your monitor size is not constant. This is stupid. If I change the resolution, the DPI keeps constant, and my monitor screen that became smaller. It is like my monitor must shrink to fit nvidia calculations.

Read the following two excerpts from Appendix Y:

If the display device provides an EDID, and the EDID contains information about the physical size of the display device, that is used to compute the DPI. […]

Note that the physical size of the X screen, as reported through xdpyinfo is computed based on the DPI and the size of the X screen in pixels.

As I can understand, nvidia driver gets the physical size from monitor, uses it to calculate DPI, then use DPI and screen resolution to calculate the physical size. I can’t understand why nVidia chose to do it. Makes no sense for me.

It is stupid, but true.