Bug 121801 - athlon-smp kernel does not support >4GB of RAM
athlon-smp kernel does not support >4GB of RAM
Product: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3
Classification: Red Hat
Component: kernel (Show other bugs)
athlon Linux
medium Severity low
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Assigned To: Ernie Petrides
Depends On:
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Reported: 2004-04-27 18:22 EDT by Duncan Laurie
Modified: 2007-11-30 17:07 EST (History)
8 users (show)

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Fixed In Version:
Doc Type: Bug Fix
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Last Closed: 2005-02-02 18:37:47 EST
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RHEL 7.3 requirements from Atomic Host:
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Description Duncan Laurie 2004-04-27 18:22:53 EDT
In order to support between 4GB and 16GB of RAM in 32-bit mode
on an opteron system the kernel needs to be compiled with
the CONFIG_HIGHMEM64G option enabled.

From what I can gather, the -smp kernels should be compiled with
PAE + highpte support by enabling the CONFIG_HIGHMEM64G option,
which will also enable CONFIG_X86_PAE.  Then the -hugemem kernel
should support PAE + highpte + 4/4 split by enabling the
CONFIG_HIGHMEM64G and the CONFIG_X86_4G options.
(see the posting by Rik van Riel about this: http://www.redhat.

Currently the i686-smp kernel has the HIGHMEM64G option enabled
while the athlon-smp kernel only has HIGHMEM4G enabled.  This means
it is possible to use the i686-smp kernel to run opteron system with
between 4GB and 16GB in 32-bit mode and use the hugemem kernel
on systems with >16GB.

However it seems that the athlon-smp kernel should also be compiled
with the CONFIG_HIGHMEM64G option so it looks and acts the same as
the i686-smp variant.

Steps to Reproduce:
1. Install >4GB RAM in an opteron system
2. Install and boot kernel-smp-2.4.21-9.0.3.EL.athlon.rpm

Actual Results:  recognized RAM is limited to 4GB
Expected Results:  all available RAM is recognized (up to 16GB)
Comment 1 Ernie Petrides 2004-05-03 16:43:29 EDT
I'm assigning this to Ingo to validate/certify that the suggestion
works and can be supported.

But Duncan, if you are truly trying to use an Opteron-based system,
then please install the relevant x86_64 RPM instead (for best

Thanks.  -ernie
Comment 3 Rik van Riel 2004-05-03 16:49:50 EDT
Enabling HIGHMEM64G would break all 3rd party kernel modules. Unless
there is a very good reason why the 64 bit kernel cannot be used,
compatibility should be preserved.
Comment 4 Duncan Laurie 2004-05-03 17:27:04 EDT
I agree the easiest answer is to use the x86_64 version,
but we have some customers who are not ready to make
that change yet.

Breaking 3rd party modules would be bad, so in that
case is there any reason why an i686-smp kernel would
not be an acceptable (or supported) alternative?
Comment 8 Ernie Petrides 2005-02-02 18:37:47 EST
Duncan, yes, installing an i686-smp kernel is a reasonable alternative,
although most preferable is installing the x86_64-smp kernel.
Comment 9 Rich Lane 2005-05-17 12:00:28 EDT
One reason why someone (myself included) would not use an i686-smp kernel is if 
you were going to run Oracle on it. They currently support Opteron only with 32 
bit kernel. In fact they suggest getting Opterons for future upgrades. So this 
leads us back to how do we get to see > 4GB of RAM with a 32-bit kernel on 
Opteron CPU's.
Comment 10 Paul Waterman 2006-04-10 11:35:31 EDT
We just ran into this problem of RHEL 3.0 32-bit not recognizing more than 4GB
of memory on Opteron systems.

If I read this bug right, it looks like the following is the case:

1. RHEL documentation specifically states that the smp kernel supports 16GB of


2. The 32-bit athlon kernel, which gets installed automatically on Opteron
systems, only supports 4GB of memory.

3. Red Hat isn't going to fix this.

Surely that can't be true?!?!? Can somebody please clarify?
Comment 11 Rik van Riel 2006-04-10 11:50:03 EDT
Your Athlon system should be able to run the i686 SMP kernel and see all memory,

And yes, the i686 kernel is 32 bit.
Comment 12 Paul Waterman 2006-04-12 12:58:28 EDT
Yes. The i686 smp kernel can be installed, and yes, when it's installed the
system does see all available memory.

However, that's not a completely trivial process (reboot to uniprocessor kernel;
rpm -e the athlon smp kernel, install the i686 kernel, manually update
grub.conf, reboot), and simply shouldn't have to be done. We kickstart systems
-- it takes less than 60 seconds of an admin's time to initiate a kickstart, and
then you just let things run; when the system comes up it's immediately
available in production. With this, not only can't we do that, but it multiplies
the sysadmin time requirements to put a system in production more than tenfold.

If I install RHEL on a supported hardware configuration, it should work
correctly "out of the box" with the default install.
Comment 13 Rik van Riel 2006-04-12 13:05:19 EDT
OK, so we need a way by which you can specify, in your kickstart config file,
that the i686 smp kernel should be installed instead of the athlon-smp kernel.

Jeremy, any idea how to do this?
Comment 15 Rik van Riel 2006-04-14 14:54:13 EDT
The athlon-smp kernel performs better than the i686-smp kernel *because* the
i686-smp has support for >4GB enabled.  This means using 3 level page tables
instead of 2 level page tables, and being able to cache fewer page table entries
in the TLB.

If the athlon-smp kernel were modified to support >4GB of RAM, a similar kind of
performance degradation would happen to it.  However, changing the athlon-smp
kernel to support >4GB would involve switching to another page table format
(PAE), which would totally break compatibility with binary 3rd party modules. 
This is unacceptable in the middle of a RHEL release, so the solution to your
problem would be using the i686-smp kernel instead (and making sure that is the
kernel which is installed).

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