Viglen MPC-L from Xubuntu 10.04 LTS to Debian stable

With Ubuntu not supplying a kernel suitable for the CPU (a Geode GX2 by National Semiconductors, a 486 buzzing at 399MHz clock rate) of my Viglen MPC-L (the one Duncan documented the installation of Xubuntu in 2010), it was time to look for other alternatives. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of using some random repository to get the suitable kernel for newer version of Ubuntu, so Debian was the next best thing that came to mind.

Friday night, right before heading out to pub with friends, I sat on the couch, armed with a laptop, USB keyboard, RGB cable and a USB memory stick. Trial and error reminded me to

  1. use bittorrent to download the image since our flaky Belkin-powered Wifi cuts off the connection every few minutes and thus corrupts direct downloads, and
  2. do the boot script magic of pnpbios=off noapic acpi=off like with our earlier Xubuntu installation.

In contrast to the experience of installing Xubuntu on the Viglen MPC-L, the Debian installation was easy from here on. The installer seemed to not only detect the needed kernel and install the correct one (Linux wizzle 2.6.32-5-486 #1 Mon Mar 26 04:36:28 UTC 2012 i586 GNU/Linux) but, judging from the success of the first reboot after the installation had finished and a quick look at /boot/grub/grub.cfg, had also set the right boot options automatically. So the basic setup was a *lot* easier than it was with Xubuntu!

Some things that I’ve gotten used to being automatically installed with Ubuntu weren’t pre-installed with Debian and so I had to install them for my usage. Tasksel installed ssh server, but rsync, lshw and ntfs-3g needed to be installed as well which I had gotten used to having in Ubuntu, but installing them wasn’t too much of a chore. As I use my Viglen MPC-L as my main irssi shell nowadays, I had to install of course irssi, but some other stuff needed by it and my other usage patterns… so… after installing apt-file pastebinit zsh fail2ban for my pet peeves, and tmux irssi irssi-scripts libcrypt-blowfish-perl libcrypt-dh-perl libcrypt-openssl-bignum-perl libdbi-perl sqlite3 libdbd-sqlite3-perl I finally have approximately the system I needed.

All in all, the experience was a lot easier than what I had with Xubuntu in September 2010. It definitely surprised me and I kind of hope that this process wasn’t as easy and automated 18 months ago…

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9 Responses to Viglen MPC-L from Xubuntu 10.04 LTS to Debian stable

  1. For what it’s worth, Xubuntu 12.04 ships with the non-pae kernel (so it’s different than Ubuntu), we did this intentionally so we could still support old systems out of the box.

    But we will probably end up having to drop it for 12.10 since Ubuntu main probably won’t be maintaining it anymore.

    • myrtti says:

      it’s not if the kernel is PAE or not, it’s about if it’s 486 or 586. I don’t claim to know anything about kernels, but I believe this is the rub.

      • Jon Severinsson says:

        Actually, it is i486 vs. i686.

        Ubuntu 10.04 was the last release supporting i486. In Ubuntu 10.10 the i486 kernel was removed and all userland updates was compiled for i586 (so just getting a i486 compatible kernel wouldn’t be enough, you would also have to recompile most of the userland packages). By Ubuntu 11.10 all supported kernels (both generic and generic-pae) was updated to require i686, and all userland updates was compiled for i686.

        The only change in Ubuntu 12.04 was changing the default kernel from generic to generic-pae, but the installer is supposed to auto-detect missing pae support and install linux-image-generic instead in that case.

        Debian, on the other hand, compiles all userland for i486, and the installer will automatically choose between a i686 (non-pae), i686-bigmem (pae, for >4 GiB RAM) or i486 (for i486 and i586) kernel.

        That said, there was discussion on dropping i486 (and possibly even i586) support from wheezy (current Debian testing), and while that didn’t happen, it probably will happen for wheezy+1.

        • myrtti says:

          what a shame, I do hope that there will be alternatives around when 486 support is dropped, the experience with Debian(-based distros) has been excellent so far and it’d be shame to leave the hardware unused :-|

          • Timo Jyrinki says:

            I guess Debian will be a safe bet for a long time still. Considering they also stay at ARMv4 for their armel port, Debian 32-bit x86 will probably stay at i386 likewise. Then there’s armhf for really new ARM hardware and amd64 for really new x86 hardware. Makes sense. Targetting different instruction sets (ARMv4 vs. ARMv6 or i386 vs. i686) is not really that huge boost anyway, no matter what gentooists say :)

            Having to move away from Debian would be a pity for the user.

  2. Adie says:

    Hi Myrtti,
    I am really grateful for this suggestion. I needed to do a complete reinstall so when 12.04 didn’t work I left the box alone. I am a novice to yourself and I would appreciate some more help if OK?
    could you give me a link as to what to download? I guess I can then stick it on a usb, do th noacpi bit and boot the usb. do you recommend lxde desktop or are you a true guru? :)

    many thanks

    • myrtti says:

      hi Adie!
      Download the torrent file from here, download the image and stick it on a USB. I use my Debian only on the commandline for now, so I’ve not installed any desktop environments at all yet.
      Hope this helps…

  3. Adie says:

    A thousand thanks, I will get to work and will report back my findings. I do prefer a desktop and I will see if I can get a LXDE or similar to work. I bow to your command line love :D

    Thank you again and nice blog :)


  4. Adie says:


    Sadly I seem to have BIOS problem. I cannot get it to F6. I can get F1 and Shift+F10 but no F6. I have the version 3 from viglen so should be OK. Even restored defaults. Not too sure if I can get a way to boot the USB. It goes to the old GRUB if I have no USB but I have not been able to get to the old Xubuntu, I think I may have wiped something from trying to install over it in the past.
    Will go back to the drawing board!
    Thank you for your time, it is much appreciated.