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I have a hardware not so popular, it's a VIA Nehemiah 1,5 Ghz i686 (a low power mobo).
I've used it since many years ago.
This mobo seems to have kind of problems with new kernels.
If I use the Linux 2.6.20-16-generic kernel or an older one everything is working well.
But if I use a newer kernel it has a lot of problems.
A lot of different problems and I tried to solve it many times but I couldn't.
For example, with the recent Ubuntu distro, the GUI freezes before starting the installation. If I install by terminal, the GUI freezes at the first start. If I install the server version of Ubuntu (or Debian) without X-server, it works for some minutes then it freezes.
If I use a kernel just a bit newer (I don't remember which one... it was years ago) than 2.6.20-16-generic, it works for some hours, then it freezs.
So, it is mandatory to use the kernel Linux 2.6.20-16-generic!!
Years ago I installed Ubuntu (maybe 6.10) then I updated, more times, till Ubuntu 8.04.4 LTS maintaining the old kernels.
So now I'm running Ubuntu 8.04.4 with the 2.6.20-16-generic kernel and everything is working perfectly.
Ubuntu 8.04 is fortunatly a LTS, so it will be supported till 04/2011, but I have to think about what to do after this date.
I don't remember well, but I think I've already tried to update from 8.04 to a recent Ubuntu (without jumping any version), maintaining my old working kernel, but I had some problems... I'm not sure, maybe will try again.
Anyway the question is:
how install a recent Ubuntu (let's say 10.04) with the 2.6.20-16-generic kernel?
1) Install Ubuntu 10.04 with an option which specify to use this old kernel. But I really don't know how to do it.
2) Try to install Ubuntu 10.04 with just basic service, eg. without GUI and networking.
Then install (or compile and install) the old kernel there.
Or compile it in another computer and then install it there.
The problem is that I had a lot of problems compiling that kernel (I tried on a Ubuntu 9.10 in a virtual machine) and i couldn't complete the compilation.
Anyway, let's forget for one moment about compilation, can I extract my current kernel from my working system and then install it on the new Ubuntu 10.04 (with basic service)?
I really don't know what to tell you. Your board is i686 so it should be fine with the newer kernels.
Maybe re think using Ubuntu for a second. I run 8.04 LTS to but on a Older IBM M41 Stock Desktop. I don't run your hardware. So no idea on what doesn't work.
I find that when Ubuntu won't play nice. Then AntiX or Simply Mepis Will. That is about all I might suggest for apt-get Distros besides Debian which you say you already tried.
Maybe Slackware or a rpm based distro like Mandriva, Open Suse, or Fedora, and a Lighter Distro Like MacPup Opera or MacPup Foxy might be worth a test spin maybe?
Try to install Ubuntu 10.04 with just basic service, eg. without GUI and networking.
Any Ubuntu 10.04 install will come with the latest kernel, be it the 10mb install or the full CD install. So No gui or networking won't matter much (I am guessing). From what I have seen so far with 10.04. I will wait a few months before I try a 8.94 upgrade to 10.04/ The upgrade history of Ubuntu (IMO) requires a waiting period till some bugs are sorted out.
That being said, you will face many hurdles using an old kernel with a new Ubuntu. The default filesystem is now ext4, which older kernels don't support. The new bootloader is Grub2; is this supported by older kernels? (I don't honestly know.)
Ubuntu is a fast-moving distro, so it seems a weird choice to simultaneously move forward and move backward. It seems odd to me that no recent kernel has support for your hardware... maybe it's time to move past Ubuntu (considered by some to be a very unstable, buggy distro) and experiment with other options. For example, CentOS 5.x uses kernel 2.6.18 and will be supported for many years.
I didn't know about the page on kernel.ubuntu.com!
In first I will try to install, on my current system, the older kernel from kernel.ubuntu.com.
If it works, then I'll try to installa a new Ubuntu (with basic services) and then that working kernel.
If it doesn't work, I'll try (after a waiting period, as suggested by rokytnji) an upgrade from 8.04 LTS to 10.04 LTS.
If it doesn't work, I'll try another distro as you suggested, but it's a pitty cause I was learning a lot about debian and ubuntu.