A console-only Ubuntu system

It’s been a long time since I built a command-line system in Ubuntu — possibly over a year — and it seems like a lot of things have changed in that time. Sometimes it’s taking me as long to track down the features I want and settings I need, as it does to manually configure and install the things I usually do in Arch or Crux.

But that’s not a bad thing, it’s just that Ubuntu has things in different places, or makes things “easier” than what I’m used to. For example, the Broadcom 43xx wireless in this 600m needs firmware to work — so I install the fwcutter, download wl_apsta.o manually, tear them open and drop them into place. Ubuntu does all that for me when the package is installed, and it was a little confusing at first when it took over. But it worked fine, and that was the goal.

From there I just add the appropriate iwconfig wlan0 essid and dhclient wlan0 commands to /etc/rc.local, and it links to my network each time.

Duplicating my console-only system on the 600m is easily done too. The biggest stumbling block was getting the framebuffer resolution correct, since the default installation doesn’t insert the radeonfb module, which is what I need for this screen to display the proper resolution. Adding radeonfb to /etc/modules does the trick.

After that, it’s pretty much cake and candy. I can use setfont to switch to the 12×6 Terminus font (reconfiguring console-tools seems to have no effect on the default font), and install any of a mess of applications that I regularly use at the console.

The only remaining issue is sound support. It seems like any attempt to access the AC97-driven sound card is spewing forth errors. mocp and alsamixer both crash and burn. Full Ubuntu systems work fine on this machine, which suggests that I have omitted a software package somewhere … such is the story of my life.

There are some pleasant surprises too. … A console-based system boots extremely fast in Ubuntu. This 1.4Ghz system with a measly 5400rpm hard drive is at the command line in only 12 seconds. I seem to remember my old 1Ghz machine taking at least 30 seconds to do the same thing.

The caveat to that remark, of course, is that my aforementioned 550Mhz Celeron with that 7200rpm Hitachi drive in it is doing the same thing, Grub to login, in 10 seconds with Crux. So in spite of the quick Ubuntu start, it’s still a bit weak if I need a machine three times as fast to compare to it. … :|

All the same I’m going to stick with this for a little while. I have a few packages I’d like to poke around with, and see how they behave under Ubuntu. And it’s been a long time since I did this. A new year is a good time to try new things … even if they are technically the old ones. :D

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11 Responses to “A console-only Ubuntu system”


  1. 1 Armor Nick 2010/01/01 at 3:32 PM

    Hey, thanks for clarifying this. I tried making a console-based system once, but I got DirectFB errors every time I wanted to use the framebuffer. Af first I thought Ubuntu was simply unable, but then INX showed me fbi and mplayer without hesitation. So thanks for showing me how to load those modules :)

    • 2 K.Mandla 2010/01/01 at 4:23 PM

      No problem. Remember to skim through the available modules with modprobe -l | grep fb to find one that matches your hardware. Chances are you’ll get better results with that.

  2. 3 steve 2010/01/01 at 6:56 PM

    Awesome tips as usual…I’m enjoying an X-free system on my toshiba satellite 500MHz P3 w/192MB of RAM, which also hosts my website and a chat server…isn’t Linux + the console amazing?

  3. 4 ajlec2000 2010/01/01 at 11:31 PM

    I am curious as to what you remove if anything to boot straight to console.

    • 5 anon 2010/01/02 at 5:07 AM

      just remove the display manager. gdm in the default ubuntu installation. i hope you don’t mind the meddling :P

      • 6 K.Mandla 2010/01/02 at 6:43 AM

        That’s one way, although if you want an exceedingly sparse environment, try the command-line installation off the alternative install CD. :twisted:

  4. 7 Kaleb Elwert 2010/01/02 at 11:27 PM

    I seem to remember that the console install of Ubuntu leaves out alsa-utils or something of that sort… maybe that’ll fix your sound issues…

    • 8 K.Mandla 2010/01/02 at 11:50 PM

      Hmm, I’m pretty sure I had alsa-utils in there, because alsamixer was on board, but spitting out errors. I have a feeling there was another package that I didn’t know about that was needed. … No matter now; I’ll try again the next time I put Ubuntu on there.


  1. 1 Links 2/1/2010: KDE’s Usability Goals, Pardus Praised | Boycott Novell Trackback on 2010/01/03 at 3:51 AM
  2. 2 Ubuntu-News – Your one stop for news about Ubuntu » Blog Archive » A console-only Ubuntu system Trackback on 2010/01/11 at 9:38 PM
  3. 3 I’d like to thank the Academy. … « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2010/01/20 at 10:48 PM

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