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Wasting a Sunday afternoon

19 August 2019

If someone had told me what I'm about to tell you, I'd probably have not believed it.

However, it's true... and it wasted over three hours of my time on Sunday, so let me fill you in.

I use Linux a lot. I like Linux. It does almost everything I want and, as I've written previously, almost all the programs I need come as part of the distribution download or can be had as freeware.

What's not to love about that?

Well yesterday I was pulling out what little hair remains on my shiny dome because I had a problem. My Linux Mint 19 machine wouldn't boot properly.

It would boot through to the login screen and allow me to enter my password but then the screen would clear and all I'd be left with was a mouse pointer -- which did move when requested.

What was going on?

A quick Google for this symptom suggested a problem the NVIDIA video drivers.

It was true that I'd recently replaced the rather old no-name video card in this box with an "el Cheapo" NVIDIA GTX1030 but it had been working fine with the genuine drivers for quite some time now. Why was it suddenly no longer booting?

I tried all the usual things...

From a command line (Ctl-Alt-F1 would still allow shell access) I uninstalled the NVIDIA drivers and rebooted.

Nope... still the same.

I tried re-installing the NVIDIA drivers.

Nope... still the same.

So I tried not only uninstalling the drivers but also deleting them

Bingo... back came my desktop but of course now I was using the generic open-source drivers with no acceleration so the system was far from really usable. Just watching a YouTube video at 720p produced 80% CPU utilization.

I figured that perhaps now I'd removed all the driver files, a clean install of the genuine NVIDIA drivers might do the trick. I also noticed that a new version (presumably with bug-fixes) was available so I switched from driver 390 to driver 430 and installed

Reboot... bam... no desktop again!

At this point I was really getting rather frustrated and couldn't see any resolution except perhaps a clean reinstall. I mean... it *had* been working just fine and all I did was reboot because my new mouse didn't seem to be responding to attempts to change its sensitivity and speed.

I even used GRUB to try older kernels and still no luck.

Then, the analytical part of my brain started tapping me on the shoulder.

A tiny voice in my head said "the only thing that's different is the mouse you just changed, it must be that".

Yep, that's right, my old Microsoft wireless mouse had a wonky scroll wheel that was getting increasingly random in its action so just before rebooting I'd replaced it with a new Logitech wireless mouse. Aside from an inability to adjust the speed/sensitivity the new mouse had been working just fine.

However, I'd not rebooted since changing mice so the only logical thing to do was to revert back to the old mouse and see if the machine would boot.

At this stage I had the 430 drivers from NVIDIA installed and the machine steadfastly refused to load the desktop, just displaying that mouse-pointer instead.

I removed the new Logitech mouse and switched back to the old Microsoft one.

Click, whir, reboot and -- bam... my desktop was back!


I swapped back to the Logitec mouse, rebooted and... my desktop was gone.


I browsed through the Xorg.0.log files and there were no errors being thrown by the NVIDIA drivers either time so I'm at a loss.

However, it is very much apparent that simply changing the brand of mouse actually stopped Linux from booting to the desktop unless the generic video drivers were used.

Being a fan of low-tech solutions to hi-tech problems, I drove down to The Warehouse and bought a new Microsoft mouse. Problem-solved! Now I have a working mouse and a booting Linux computer.

However, I remain totally none the wiser as to exactly what subtle interactions between the Logitech mouse and the NIVIDA drivers were taking place although I gather that there have been many other driver issues with Logitech mice and keyboards, although none that I could find would affect a system's ability to boot. Perhaps my issues were never the less, still a symptom of that wider problem. I also found one post that suggested that as of Mint 19, Logitech mice were no longer supported (but the mouse itself worked fine if you swapped it after the machine had booted)

And yes, the Logitech mouse works just fine on a Windows machine and an old Rasberry Pi so it seems to be within spec.

Ah well, the weather was crap on Sunday so I guess it couldn't have happened on a better day in terms of not interfering with my other activities.

Questions for readers: Is this something you would have expected? Have you ever encountered any bizzare interactions between computer components like this before? Do you know how to get one's hair back into a bleeding scalp without leaving a scar?

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