Install a modern 32bit Kernel

Last update on March 23, 2014.

Install a modern 32bit Kernel

Kwheezy 32bit version is distributed with the Debian Wheezy 486 kernel. This is to maximize the scope of machines it can be installed on.

The 486 kernel is for very old hardware, it does not support SMP (Symmetric  Multi-Processing). Which means it only uses a single core, even if you have two or more. It also doesn't support a lot of more modern processor instructions. So basically, you could be losing quite a bit of speed and power by using it.

In Debian it is easy to install different kernels. The 686-pae kernel supports PAE (Processor Address Extension). PAE is available in newer x86 processors and was designed by Intel as a stop-gap feature for 32bit processors so that they could support 4GB of RAM and above. It also supports modern instruction sets which translates to more power.

If you have a PC that was bought in the last 10 years, you will probably be able to use this kernel. If you're not sure, you can try the 686-pae kernel and if it doesn't boot sucessfully, you can boot back into the 486 kernel by selecting it at boot time (the GRUB menu). Then uninstall the 686-pae kernel.


To install an additional kernel:

  1. Open Apper from the System menu.
  2. In the search field at the top, type "linux-image" and select "linux-image-686-pae" from the list of results.
  3. Once selected, an "Install" button with a down arrow icon appears at the right-most column of the table. Click it.
  4. Now the "Apply" button is enabled, click it.
  5. Accept any additional dependency packages, they are required.
  6. Once it has finished downloading and installing, close Apper.
  7. Restart (reboot) the computer.

For proprietary Nvidia graphics drivers:

Before rebooting (step 7), repeat steps 1-6 above, this time installing the following package: nvidia-kernel-686-pae

Conclussion:

Now when you boot, there will be extra lines in the boot GRUB menu. These top line represents the new (686-pae) kernel and it will boot by default. If you want to boot into the 486 kernel, select the applicable line before the GRUB times out.

If your machine doesn't support the 686-pae kernel; boot into the 486 kernel and uninstall the 686-pae kernel. The process is the same as above except select 'Remove' instead of 'Install'.

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