Part of the flailing about while working around the Ubuntu video driver update glitch included blindly swapping a Displayport cable, which triggered another failure after everything settled down: the (empty) DVD drive’s activity light remained dimly lit with the PC off and both monitors in power-save mode. Unplugging the PC’s power cord extinguished all the internal LEDs on the system board, but left the drive light shining the same dim green. Disconnecting the USB cables to the monitors (they both have USB hubs) had no effect. Unplugging the monitors extinguished the LED after a bit. Unplugging one of the Displayport cables turned it off instantly, which was a clue that took a while to recognize.
Worse, the landscape monitor, a year-old Dell U2711, now refused to wake up from power-save mode during boot, even when it was the only monitor connected to the PC. Searching with an assortment of relevant keywords produced several interesting results, including a lengthy Dell support forum thread, all suggesting a deeper and surprisingly longstanding problem with Displayport connections on big Dell monitors.
I knew most of the remedies weren’t relevant, because this failure happened while the BIOS felt around to identify the monitors: not a driver issue (not in effect yet), not a Windows issue (fer shure!), not a Linux issue, and not a BIOS configuration issue (nothing changed, plus Dell doesn’t allow much configuration).
It turns out that the original pair of Displayport cables bore Amphenol logos on the connector shells and cable. One of the replacements was a Genuine eBay cable from halfway around the planet, bearing no markings of any sort. Given the hints in those search hits, I discovered that the Amphenol-branded cables did not carry pin 20 between the connectors, but the eBay cables did: just a little something extra from eBay!
Installing the two Amphenol cables extinguished the DVD drive light by preventing the monitor standby power from backfeeding the PC through the video card and the monitor woke up correctly on the next two boots. Whether that will permanently cure the startup problem remains to be seen, as it was somewhat intermittent with the wrong cable and the forum threads suggest that the monitor will continue to work for a while before failing again.
While pondering all that, I severed the pin 20 connection in one of the eBay cables, just to have a different cable in hand. This diagram from the Wikipedia article, with pin 20 highlighted, shows it sitting under the longer blank section above one of the keys:
The connector shell has snap latches that succumb to gentle prying with a razor knife, revealing the hot-melt-glue potted interior, with the orange wire snaking away from pin 20 at the top of the other side:
One snip, a bit of prying to extract the end from the glue, and it’s ready to be buttoned up again:
Both Amphenol cables and the modified eBay cable now have labels noting that they do not connect pin 20. We’ll see if that makes any difference…