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i have the same problem and switching to lightdm solved the issue, the problem started back in 2012 when the 3.5 kernel appeared. same hardware, dell inspiron 1521, ati radeon x1270. i think it is a gdm problem with this pretty old hardware. the only problem with lightdm is that the "turn off display" does not work, at least in my case. i had to use dome "xset" settings to turn it off at a given time.