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I have a Dell Studio XPS 1647 laptop that has a dual-core Intel Core i5 and an ATI Radeon 4670 GPU. It originally came with Windows 7 Home Premium installed, but I have since upgraded to Windows 8 (currently running the 8.1 Preview). For school, I have to have a working distribution of Linux on my machine. I tried Ubuntu first, at the time the latest version was 11.04. It ran, but it seemed that the fan was always on, got and stayed hot quickly, drained the battery quickly, and didn't seem to have nearly the performance that I did running Windows. This was mostly fixed when I realized I didn't have the ATI drivers installed for my GPU. I installed the fglrx drivers and the problem was mostly fixed.

That was my first install of Linux, by exploring and toying with things I ended up messing up my system and had to reinstall the OS. By this time, I had discovered GNOME 3 and was using it so I decided to download Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix so I wouldn't have to install GNOME myself after Ubuntu. It installed and ran, but however I noticed that I could not get the fglrx drivers for my GPU to install successfully. I then took to the Internet and discovered, much to my chagrin, that it will not work because AMD is not supporting XServer 1.13. You can get more information from this bug report.

There is a workaround posted which involves downgrading XServer that has worked for some, but has also lead to unstable or crashing systems for others. I learned that there was an open source driver which could be used. Recently I tried to install Ubuntu GNOME 13.04 (Raring Ringtail) and the open source ATI driver. It worked, but I'm afraid it doesn't keep the system from getting too hot like the proprietary driver did. My system runs okay for a short time and then gets so hot that performance quickly degrades and after extended use the system will shut down automatically to prevent physical damage. When I have ran the sensors command I have gotten temperatures around 100-110 degrees Celsius on the card before the system shuts itself off. I am basically only able to use the system for about 30 minutes or so before it gets too hot.

I am wondering if anyone has any advice for me as far as what I should run considering my hardware. Should I download and install the old version 11.04 that seemed to work okay before? Should I try the workaround downgrading XServer on the latest version. Is the open source driver my best option or should I just look at a different distribution of Linux since I can't get my hardware to work properly with Ubuntu?

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Ubuntu 11.04 came with kernel 2.6 and is no longer supported, I wouldn't go that route.

Ubuntu 12.04 is a Long Term Support (LTS) release that will be supported through 2017. It comes with X Server version 1.11.3:

$ X -version

X.Org X Server 1.11.3
Release Date: 2011-12-16
X Protocol Version 11, Revision 0
Build Operating System: Linux 2.6.42-37-generic x86_64 Ubuntu
Current Operating System: Linux CRTE-LDS-15461 3.2.0-58-generic #88-Ubuntu SMP Tue Dec 3 17:37:58 UTC 2013 x86_64
Kernel command line: BOOT_IMAGE=/boot/vmlinuz-3.2.0-58-generic root=UUID=fea09057-ae47-487f-8ed5-c2711b98362e ro quiet splash vt.handoff=7
Build Date: 16 October 2013  04:41:23PM
xorg-server 2:1.11.4-0ubuntu10.14 (For technical support please see http://www.ubuntu.com/support) 
Current version of pixman: 0.30.2
    Before reporting problems, check http://wiki.x.org
    to make sure that you have the latest version.

I'd start by installing Ubuntu 12.04 and trying the drivers on it. If that doesn't work then you can try downgrading the kernel to 3.2. You can easily downgrade the kernel by installing the appropriate package, like linux-image-3.2.0-58-generic.

Only if none of this works would I advise you to seek an alternative distribution. Debian Squeeze may be an option, but support should end still this year.

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