Linux Literacy Session 6: Hardware


Version 1.0

Finding Compatible Hardware

Not all computer parts work well with Ubuntu. Very old, very new and very rare hardware is often not supported well.

The easiest way to determine the state of support for your components is to search on the internet. For example, “Ubuntu Lucid Dell Inspiron 4150”

The lshw program can show you information about what components are detected in your computer. (There is a Hardware Lister package you can install in the Ubuntu Software Centre you can install.) You can then conduct web searches for these components.

It is especially helpful to look up the state of Ubuntu/Linux support for computers and devices before you purchase them.

Some devices that tend to be problematic include:

  • Video cards
  • Printers and scanners
  • Cellphone syncing
  • Laptops (suspend and resume and wireless are commonly difficult )

Proprietary Drivers

A driver is software that tells the operating system how to interact with your hardware. You might be familiar with finding drivers for video cards, sound cards, printers, and wireless cards.

Many drivers for Ubuntu are built into the kernel — the core operating system. When you boot your computer then the operating system detects your hardware and loads the proper drivers automatically.

Linux drivers often take the form of modules that your system loads. In some cases you need to help Linux figure out what module to load for your system. You can specify individual modules that should be loaded in the file /etc/modules.

Sometimes hardware manufacturers keep the details of their devices secret, which makes it hard to provide good drivers that are built into the kernel. Some of these manufacturers provide drivers of their own, which are known as “proprietary” drivers.

Ubuntu provides a tool to help use these drivers. Look in System -> Administration -> Hardware Drivers .

Common devices that use proprietary drivers are video cards, modems, and wireless cards.

Many people prefer to avoid proprietary drivers, but in practice this can be limiting (especially for video cards). The following websites offer good overviews of the issue:


To set up a printer you need to connect to the printer, and you need to get a printer driver.

There are several ways to connect to printers from Ubuntu:

  • Network printing: your printer is on the network, and you connect to it via its IP Address or name.
  • Print shares: The printer is connected to a different computer on your network, and you connect to the printer via that computer.
  • Direct connection: you connect the printer directly to your computer via USB or the parallel port

Print Drivers

Many print drivers already come with your Ubuntu system. Try them first.

The website has information about printer drivers for different printers.

If the print drivers that come with your system do not work well, you can download PPD files that can be used to configure your printer.

Some printer drivers work but are ridiculously slow. Some drivers have worse print quality or fewer features than others. You have to experiment.


If your scanner is a USB scanner, try plugging it in, then use the “Simple Scan” program to try it out.

The SANE Compatibility List is usually a good indication of whether your scanner is supported or not.

Older parallel port scanners usually do not work.


  1. If you have a printer or scanner at home, get it working with your Ubuntu installation, or determine why it will not work.

  2. Research whether a computer peripheral or component will work with your Ubuntu system. This could be a component that you own (a webcam, an MP3 player, a cellphone…) or one that you don’t own but covet and would consider purchasing if you had lots of money.

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