Category Archives: Dell Latitude D531

FreeBSD VT aka newcons in base/head

Update 2015-01-05:

I was more or less forced to adopt VT, UTF-8, KMS, and DRM2 when I upgraded my laptop from stable/9 to stable/10 in the time between Christmas of 2014 and New Year of 2015. My laptop, a Dell Latitude D531 of mid-2007 design, is equipped with the AMD/ATI Radeon X1270 GPU. What an awesome beast back in 2007/8! :P

Adding the two lines below to /boot/loader.conf, lets me watch the transition from a 80×25 text mode console, to a 80×30 graphics mode console, to a 210×65 graphics mode console, as the bootstrap firmware, the VGA driver, and subsequently, the KMS driver does their magic.


The VT console with the proper KMS driver truly rivals the old sc console in terms of geometry, UTF-8 capability, and speed.

Now, if only the former and latter were true for FreeBSD VMs running inside VirtualBox, which are still forced to run the VT console with the VGA driver or in the old text mode.

Update 2014-08-27:

I compiled and installed r270452 of base/head the other day, and the VT console is faster than ever before in VirtualBox 4.3.12. I imagine the speedups are similar on real hardware.

The VT console can’t compete with the old sc console in terms of speed, but, making room for a new line on a screen full of text, is considerably faster now than earlier this year.

Setting hw.vga.textmode="1" in /boot/loader.conf is even faster if you don’t need doublewidth characters. However, you may feel comfortably with the 30 lines of text provided by the graphical mode.

It’s nice to see the sc and the VT code being merged, making it possible to have both consoles compiled in the kernel for base/stable/10 and base/head. Only one of them may be active at a time, so set your /boot/loader.conf accordingly:

kern.vty="vt" for the VT console, or, kern.vty="sc" for the old sc console.

For last couple of days I’ve been playing with base/head and the VT kernel. It’s refreshing to finally be able to put Unicode with the UTF-8 encoding to use on the console. The console speed, at least when run in VirtualBox 4.3.6, reminds me of the console of the Sun SPARCstation IPCs I used to manage before they all died some years ago. I’ll see if I can find some idle equipment at work that’s not too old and see if the console speed is any different on real hardware. Anyway, this newcons business surely is a step in the right direction.