Java Runtime Environment Display Issues on NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200

June 2, 2011

The Java Runtime Environment (often called JRE, J2RE, Java Standard Edition, or JSE) is a set of software which allows your Windows system to run Java programs alongside your regular applications or within your web browser. Java is a programming language and software platform. Java applications run inside of a virtual machine which translates the portable Java code to native code on the host operating system. More information is available here.

On Windows, you usually use the Oracle (previously Sun Microsystems) version of the Java runtime (downloads available here), older versions available here. Note that there is a Microsoft Java VM (also called the MSJVM, or Microsoft VM), but because of a lawsuit from Sun, Microsoft is no longer allowed to distribute it. It can be downloaded from here and will still install into modern Windows versions, but it is quite old and unmaintained. There is also an IBM JVM (also known as J9), however IBM requires that you license it, so it is really only used internally or made available for IBM branded systems.

I’m currently running the current release of the JRE: Java 6 Standard Edition Version 6 Update 25 (build 1.6.0_25-b06). The issue I’m experiencing has appeared in many older releases which I was running under 32-bit Windows 7.

Basically what happens is that Java applications fail to display some contents of windows or controls. The objects which fail to be drawn correctly are different across various Java applications (ie. one might fail to draw the contents of a text box, another may fail to draw in a button caption, a third may not have any problems at all). However, for each application the same thing will always fail to be drawn no matter how many times you run it again (ie. the first application will fail to draw text box content, and this will happen every time the application is run). The buggy control will function normally even though you cannot see it’s contents (ie typed text will still be in the edit field, blank buttons can still be clicked). In a few cases the window is not functional at all (parts of the Java control panel even do this sometimes).

At first I thought my system was running out of handles, but Task Manager was able to load correctly with all of it’s window contents. Under Task Manager I was able to confirm that the Java process wasn’t using any resources excessively or doing anything else out of the ordinary. When I started troubleshooting the issue, I tried many different JRE versions, web browsers, and even a completely different installations of Windows 7. I also tried changing various settings under the Java control panel with no success. There were also not many other users who were reporting the same problem on the net, so it’s most likely not an issue caused directly by the Java Runtime.

I found that it would usually draw the missing content if I would minimize the window to the taskbar and then restore it (by clicking it’s icon in the taskbar). It also works sometimes if you drag the window onto another screen. As soon as the control refreshes or updates itself, the content will disappear again. You can keep minimizing and restoring the window over and over again in so you can view and interact with the missing contents…this can quickly become very annoying though!

Because the graphical content of the window is visible when it’s restored, it appears to be a problem with the display driver and some hardware accelerated graphics routines which Java uses. I tried lowering the graphics acceleration slider under the advanced display properties, but it didn’t have any effect (even at the lowest level).

I have an NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 and am running the most current Windows 7 compatible driver release provided by NVIDIA (from their support/download page) for that adapter: version 9.6.8.5 (09/10/2006). The NVIDIA drivers and tools don’t provide many options which you can customize, I changed a few of the 3D options but none of them had any effect on the problematic Java applications.

The driver is old and will never be updated to fix this bug. From the sounds of their release notes, this version fixes many more significant problems in other programs, so downgrading to older versions of the drivers is probably a really bad idea. Java has used hardware accelerated drawing for a long time now, and you’d have to downgrade to a much older version which probably leaves you open to some nasty exploits. In the end it’s probably going to be easier to just replace the video adapter! The GeForce FX 5200 is old and was never a great video card anyway (I just use it because it was the cheapest AGP card I was capable of running Aero).

So for now the best solution is to use the minimize/restore trick for the Java applications that have problems, or replace the video card. If I have any more ideas or discover anything else, I’ll post it here!

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