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OK everyone you'll love this. I've installed XFree86, GNOME and Enlightenment from source and they're working great. The NVIDIA drivers went on after XFree86, before GNOME and Enlightenment, and this problem has never gone away.
The problem is when I start XFree86 the desktop appears three times in my monitor, each one squashed to a third its original size but complete. "Strange," I thought, "let's change the screensize". So I alter the size in XFree86Config from 1280x1024 to 1152x864 and it's fine. Then I try 800x600, 1600x1200 and 1024x768. All fine. So I put it back on 1280x1024 and the problem persists.
It's not my place to mess with the timings manually since it's autoprobed under XFree86 4.2.0, but I try ctrl-alt-+/- to change the viewport size, and the screen is ok on the other sizes and the problem goes away when I put it back to 1280x1024 using ctrl-alt-+/-. So every time I start XFree86 I must do ctrl-alt-+ then ctrl-alt-- or vice-versa to get a viewable screen.
Checking my monitor's OSD says the vertical refresh with the mangled display is 36Hz, while it's 85Hz when it performs correctly.
Change what value? In the monitor section I have specified the correct HorizSync and VertRefresh values for my monitor, which limit the values that XFree86 tries so that it doesn't kill people's monitors, but how can I force a VertRefresh value over the XFree86 defaults that it autoprobes?
That's pretty lame if what you say is true. Where's the configurability?! I know for a fact my monitor can do at least 100Hz at 1280x1024 (it does 90Hz at 1600x1200) so it's clear that the default is not the highest possible value.