How To Fix Low Graphics Mode Error After Kernel Update

A low graphics mode error can be an irritating message most Linux users don’t want to see. After recently updating a Linux installation to kernel 3.2.0-40, we suddenly started having all kinds of problems with a Linux Operating System:
First, reboot seemed to hang at the boot screen for a very long time – for Ubuntu, a blank screen; for Peppermint, the Peppermint Logo, for Zorin 6, the wheel.

Next, when the system finally booted, it gave a low graphics mode error message, along with options to:

  • Run in low-graphics mode for just one session
  • Reconfigure graphics
  • Troubleshoot error
  • Exit to console login

Every attempt to either login using the “low-graphics mode”, or login to the console failed. Several reboots and grub-fixing did not help. It turned out it had nothing to do with grub.

The problem was also experienced in a Virtualbox environment with several Ubuntu-like Linux distributions – Ubuntu 12.10, Zorin 6.2, Linux Mint 14, and Peppermint 3.

Ultimately, we were able to fix the low graphics mode error problem by reverting to an older kernel and removing the offending version (in this case, kernel 3.2.0-40).

Here’s how to fix the low graphics mode error message after a kernel update:

First, you need to revert to a “good” kernel – an older version that worked. To do this, at the kernel option screen, select “”previous Linux” and select an older version that worked. On systems running Ubuntu and its variants, you can get to the kernel option by holding down the “shift” key on the keyboard as soon as the computer starts.

low graphics mode error - boot screen

low graphics mode error - grub screen

Once the system boots successfully into the older kernel, open a terminal and type “uname -r”. You should see the current version of the kernel running on your system. Keep this in mind because you do not want to remove this in the next step.

low graphics mode error - know your kernel

Next, remove the “bad” kernel using the “Software Center” in Ubuntu, or “Software Manager” in other distributions. For new Linux users or people who do not want to mess up their systems, this is the safest option. Of course, advanced users can do it several ways (but they would not be reading this).

  • Open the Software Center and type “linux-image” in the search box.
  • In some distributions, you may see an entry to “Show xx technical items” at the bottom of the results window. If so, you should click on that link to show more items.
  • Locate the problem kernel – in our case “linux-image-3.2.0-40 with a check mark showing that it is installed.
  • Click “Remove”.
  • After the kernel has been unistalled, you should open a terminal and type “sudo update-grub” to reconfigure grub and update the kernel list, then reboot.

That process worked for us.You can see the process in pictures here.

After successfully removing the offending kernel, you should be able to boot into a normal desktop and apply the guest additions in the Virtualbox machines (if using a virtual environment) – for access to full screen mode, clipboard sharing etc.

It should be noted that the problem also appears to affect kernel 3.2.0-39.

For a detailed discussion on possible steps to take in fixing graphics problems, see this resource.

As usual, your experience may vary and we always encourage you to back up your system before making any major changes. Use the tips here at your own risk.