Segmentation fault on Ubuntu 9.10 Server under Windows 7 x64 Virtual PC

I have been using Ubuntu since version 8.10 Intrepid Ibex and I was anxiously waiting the release of Ubuntu 9.10 Karmik Koala some weeks ago. In previous versions of Ubuntu it was a nightmare to have it running under Microsoft virtual environments (i.e. Virtual Server 2007, Virtual PC 2004, Virtual PC 2007 and so on). Problems with screen resolutions, bouncing mouse cursors, and skewing clocks were common and somewhat hard do solve for a novice Linux user I was by those times.

The fact is that I tried Ubuntu 9.10 Server beta, some weeks before the final version was released, under Virtual PC 2007 on Windows Vista Ultimate x64 on my desktop computer. When the bare bone LAMP server was installed, I logged in and installed gnome-desktop, crossing fingers. I was gladly surprised that everything worked fine right after the reboot: no screen flicking, no bouncing mouse, all Ok. Great. It was still the beta but it was a promising start.

When the final version of Ubuntu Server 9.10 was released, I downloaded the ISO and tried to install it on my laptop, a Windows 7 x64 with Virtual PC, the one shipped with Windows 7, not Virtual PC 2007 that you must use in Vista. All my expectations felt helplessly to the mud.

Everything seemed to be fine when the installer told me to reboot the system for first time:

Installation is complete

I rebooted the virtual machine and … oops… segmentation fault. what? I rebooted once again, and the same error: segmentation fault. Sometimes the virtual machine window simply closed, if not, the console showed me the same error: Segmentation fault and rubbish all along the screen.

Segmentation fault 1

Segmentation fault 2 Segmentation fault 3

There was no way I could run Ubuntu 9.10 Server under Virtual PC from Windows 7 x64. I tried various different install configurations (LAMP, DNS, nothing at all), with different RAM sizes, I even tried to change some settings in the guest BIOS, without any luck. In all cases, when the machine booted, I get the segmentation fault error.

After reading some documentation about the general occurrence of a segfault error, and finding that it happens when the code being execute tries to read/write some memory allocation that it should not, or an invalid memory address.

It sounded me like something dealing with Data Execution Prevention or DEP. You can find those settings in your Windows 7 under System Properties –> Advanced Options –> Performance settings –> Data Execution Prevention.

I tried to disable Data Execution Prevention for %windir%\system32\vpc.exe (the executable file for Virtual PC) but since it was a 64bit system I got an error message: You cannot set DEP attributes on 64 bit executables. No luck this way either.

According to Microsoft about Data Execution Prevention:

32-bit versions of Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 utilize the no-execute page-protection (NX) processor feature as defined by AMD or the Execute Disable bit (XD) feature as defined by Intel. In order to use these processor features, the processor must be running in Physical Address Extension (PAE) mode. The 64-bit versions of Windows use the NX or XD processor feature on 64-bit extensions processors and certain values of the access rights page table entry (PTE) field on IPF processors.

XD processor feature? Umhhh, my BIOS (the laptop, physical one) had such a thing… My laptop is a Dell Vostro 1700 and it has a setting called CPU XD Support. Why don’t we try to disable it? I rebooted to check that setting and I saw that it was Enabled (by default). Just for doing one more test, I disabled it and restarted.

CPU XD (Execute Disable) Support

I then started the Ubuntu 9.10 Server virtual machine and… it worked!!! I was even capable of installing gnome-desktop also and everything worked as it worked with Windows Vista in my desktop computer.

But is it safe to disable such a feature for the whole system? Just to be able to try and play with Ubuntu as a VM sometimes? I suppose not. I then rebooted and reset the value to Enabled (by default).

There must be something wrong with either Ubuntu or Virtual PC. Maybe Ubuntu is trying to execute certain memory address that are code for the guest, but data for the host. I don’t know.

At least, I have found a workaround for the problem. Whenever I want to test something in Ubuntu, it costs me a reboot, a change of settings in CPU XD Support value of the BIOS and a restart… ah.. and another reboot to change it back to the safe value.

If someone else finds a better workaround for this problem, I am willing to hear about it!