Metro-X

Why should I pay for a commercial X server when I can get a free one from the XFree86 distribution? Three reasons come to mind: compatibility with more obscure or higher-end graphics cards, speed, and ease of use.

Metro-X Enhanced Server Set, the commercial X server from Metro Link Incorporated, satisfies all these needs. An X11R5-based server, Metro-X replaces your current XFree86 server while fitting in nicely with the rest of the XFree86 distribution, whether it is XFree-2.x or 3.x. You can successfully run an X11R5-based server on a X11R6 system with no problems at all. I tested it with Linux 1.2.x and the XFree-3.1.1 distribution.

Metro-X has accelerated support for over one hundred different graphics cards, including a variety from Diamond and Matrox, and the very high-end Imagine-128 from Number Nine. There is also touch screen support for Carroll and Elographics serial controllers and multi-headed display support, which allows you to have more than one graphics card and monitor under X.

Metro-X for Linux comes on two diskettes, together with a bound manual and a quick installation guide. The instructions in the quick installation guide are brief and to the point. After making two symbolic links, extracting the product from the disks using cpio, and then untarring it, I was ready to start the configX program which Metro-X installs in your X11 bin directory. Metro-X also installs a touch-calibration program in your X11 bin directory for users who plan to use serial controllers for touch screen support. All the other Metro-X files are installed in a /usr/lib/X11/Metro directory, which makes it easy to keep track of where everything is.

If you have ever tried configuring XFree86, you'll be very pleased with how easy it is to use configX to configure Metro-X. configX presents you with a menu from which you can select the server, graphics card, video modes, and mouse you plan to use with X. When you select the server option from the menu, you are presented with a choice of servers: one for S3 based cards, one Matrox cards, and so on.

After selecting the correct server for your video card, you get to select which extra X extensions you want your server to have. Your choices include XIE 5.0, PEX 5.1, and DEC Xtrap 3.3. I chose both XIE and PEX. configX proceeded to build the server using the shared libc and libm libraries. You can always go back and rebuild the server again should you want to add or remove extensions to or from your server.

After building the server, you select the correct video card and the video modes you wish to use. I selected my Diamond Stealth 64 from the graphics cards list and chose my video modes. configX allows you to select as many video modes as you want with different resolutions and refresh rates, as long as they all have the same number of colors. Next, you choose your mouse from the mouse menu and, finally, select the Save and Exit option, which saves the newly created Xconfig file for use with Metro-X. That is all you need to do to configure X, and I did it in under 5 minutes.

After building and configuring my server, I proceeded to fire up X using the startx command. Within seconds, X was up and running in 16.7 million colors at 1024x768 resolution, and it was fast. The installation and configuration, which took less than ten minutes combined, worked flawlessly, and I was very impressed. Switching resolution modes works just like it does with XFree86, using the CTRL ALT + and CTRL ALT - key combinations. After playing around for a bit, I decided to do some benchmarks with the xbench suite to see how my new server would compare to XFree86. On all the tests I did, at 256 - 16.7 million colors, and at different resolutions, Metro-X outperformed the XFree86-3.1.1 S3 server using my Diamond card by about 20k - 30k xstones. I was even more impressed.

If you have a graphics card which isn't supported by XFree86 (such as some Diamond cards, Matrox cards, and the Number Nine Imagine-128), if you want a simple menu-driven configuration system for X, or if you simply want more speed, I highly recommend purchasing the Metro-X Enhanced Server Set for your Linux machine. At $99, it is a real bargain. Metro-X comes with 90-day free tech support and a 30-day money back guarantee. Contact Metro Link Incorporated at (305) 938-0283, or e-mail at sales@metrolink.com, or check out their WWW page at www.metrolink.com.

Bogdan Urma is studying physics and computer science at Cornell University and hopes to get his B.S. by next year. He has been using Linux since 1993 and spending way too much time with it. He welcomes your comments sent by e-mail to burma@newton.ruph.cornell.edu, or by snail mail c/o Linux Journal.

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