Ubuntu: Change Sensitivity of the Synaptics Touchpad

I hardly ever use the touchpad on my laptop. At work, my morning routine is plugging in my external monitor, ethernet cable and the USB hub into the back of my machine. Yes, I could get a docking station but why bother? I have a little USB hub on my desk where I connect my mouse, keyboard, the external drive for backups and occasionally a flash drive or two. It is almost like a desktop replacement which it practically is. Dell Latitude 830 is a monster of a laptop. I love this machine but it is big and bulky and definitely designed to be stationary more than portable.

Today I had the crazy idea of walking around with it and using it as a normal person would use a laptop. Bad idea! It is nice to have that big wide screen when you work on this machine but it really was quite unwieldy when I was trying to carry it and a stack of papers around the building. Not to mention that the suspend to disk just does not work on that machine. Not that I’m surprised. I have never owned, nor seen a Linux laptop in which ACPI functions such as suspend or hibernate would work with any degree of reliability. If you have one, congratulations! I envy you. Perhaps Hardy will solve my issues once I finally upgrade to it. But I digress…

I took the laptop with me to the classroom without an external mouse and noticed two things. One, my keyboard was dusty showing how often I actually use this machine as a laptop. Two, my touchpad was sluggish. Quick glance at the KDE System Settings panel assured me that there was no such thing as touchpad settings applet. One was clear – I had to do something. I tried using the rubber nipple (yes this a technical term) located between my G and H keys but that thing is so inaccurate it is not even funny. It is like trying to mouse around with a Joystick – something that I actually did quite a few times back on Amiga when I was to lazy to plug in a mouse in between games. It will get things done, but it is neither pleasurable nor productive.

So I decided to fix this. Quick google told me that all I really needed to do was to add few short lines to xorg.conf. Look for the following section in your file:

Section "InputDevice"
    Identifier     "Synaptics Touchpad"
    Driver         "synaptics"
    Option         "SendCoreEvents" 	"true"
    Option         "Device" 		"/dev/psaux"
    Option         "Protocol" 		"auto-dev"
    Option         "HorizEdgeScroll" 	"0"
    Option	     "MinSpeed"		"1.0"
    Option	     "MaxSpeed"		"1.8"
    Option	     "AccelFactor"	"0.3"
    Option	     "MaxTapTime"	"0"
EndSection

This is how mine looks right now, which is after applying the changes. You see, I added the MinSpeed, MaxSpeed and AccelFactor options to this section. You might need to play around with the numbers but keep in mind that the higher the MaxSpeed the less control you have over the cursor. At 1.8 my touchpad is a bit jumpy but I can swipe it from corner to corner of my screen without picking up my finger which is what I wanted. I’d say that 1.5 would be a medium speed you’d want to aim for, and 2.0 is way to fast. I haven’t experimented with acceleration much because I got tired of restarting my X.

Here is the thing – why can’t I have an applet with adjustable sliders for all of this in my System Settings area in KDE? It would be much easier and more convenient than editing xorg.conf and restarting X, don’t you think?

In case you noticed the last option MaxTapTime being set to 0, that is me disabling the tap to click functionality. Why? Because it was just to sensitive. I was sitting in the class as my students were taking an exam and readig Terminally Incoherent comments. At one point I was trying to move my muse pointer and I inadvertently clicked on one of the google video ads that sometimes show up above or below the comment box and my laptop went:

“DUM DUM DUM DUM! THE ICREDIBLE HULK! CRAAAAASH! ROOOOAR! COMMING SOON ON DVD! BA DUM DUM DUM! WHOOSH! KABLOOM!”

By that time I of course scrolled up so I didn’t see the video playing. I was just like “WTF??? Who is watching videos during an exam”. Then I realized it was me. Fun times.

So yeah, tap to click is gonzo for now. I don’t really need it and it was more annoying than useful.

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4 Responses to Ubuntu: Change Sensitivity of the Synaptics Touchpad

  1. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux Terminalist says:

    My laptop hibernates perfectly using ACPI. The soluction? TuxOnIce. I don’t know if it’s the default hibernater in Ubuntu, but in Debian after patching and recompiling the kernel hibernation works great!

    My laptop doesn’t have a touchpad, but the “joystick” thing works for me, well, that and using mostly zsh, vim, vimperator and muttator.

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  2. Mats Rauhala FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    By the way, if you add SHMConfig to your xorg.conf you could use synclient to interactively change your synaptic settings.

    Reply  |  Quote
  3. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Sounds like we both like our touchpads the same way… sensitive enough to swipe from corner to corner in one motion, and no goddamn tap to click.

    One thing that took me a while to figure out was the “Virtual Scrolling” area down the side of the pad… kept accidentally scrolling when I didn’t mean to until I found out that this was actually a feature (and after that point I realised it was a very useful feature).

    This is all on Windows though, so I have settings windows all over the place (ner nee ner ner ner :P)

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Mats Rauhala: Will need to try that. :)

    @Matt`: Yeah, I love that edge scrolling thing. It works just fine on Ubuntu too. I have no clue how people were using the internet on the laptops without mice before we got that feature. Scrolling pages actually using touch-pad and the scroll-bar is a fucking torture. :)

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