I am trying to use an SD-card image of debian for a arm-Board to install, which seems to me quite easy in the initial phase

zcat firmware.<board_name>.img.gz partition.img.gz > /dev/SDCARD_DEVICE

Going through the tutorial I read, that I need a "serial cable" to interact with the installer. I can't even think about what that is suppose to mean.

With jessie, the above installation methods require a serial cable to interact with the installer. An alternative is to use the HDMI output with simplefb, which is supposed to be supported in the jessie kernel (but I couldn't get it to work), but not in jessie's u-boot. However, it works fine with the stretch installer snapshots available from http://ftp.uk.debian.org/debian/dists/stretch/main/installer-armhf/current/images/netboot/SD-card-images/ combined with a u-boot snapshot (see below). At the u-boot prompt, use tty1 as console and disable framebuffer in the installer:

I need further explanation, about what I am supposed to do. I don't have such a serial cable and I don't know what the solution via hdmi means. How can I get the installer working without a special serial cable?

P.S.: Would also try another linux-distro, if it is somehow similar to debian install regarding complexity and has support for latest kodi. Thanks!

See: https://wiki.debian.org/InstallingDebianOn/Allwinner#Creating_a_bootable_SD_Card_with_u-boot

  • 1
    " I can't even think about what that is suppose to mean." Presumably it means that the board you are working on has only serial output (at least initially), not video output. Hence you use a serial cable to connect a serial terminal (in the unlikely case you have one), or a serial terminal emulator running on a separate computer in order to communicate with the board. See tldp.org/HOWTO/Remote-Serial-Console-HOWTO/intro-why.html Feb 22, 2017 at 20:37
  • Thanks for the quick answer - so this is just in case I don't have a hdmi video output. Ok that explains something.
    – Bogotrax
    Feb 22, 2017 at 20:59
  • I don't know this particular board, but some boards require interaction on the serial port to get the bootloader to boot the installation media. Feb 22, 2017 at 22:21

2 Answers 2


When you plug in the SD-card and reboot your target board, it will start the installer for Debian. The installer uses one of the serial ports on the Alwinner board to communicate with you during the installation.

You need a serial cable and a USB-to-serial converter (if your PC doesn't have a wired serial port). You might also need an RS232C converter for your board, because it is common to wire the serial port wired directly to the micro instead of providing RS232C signal levels.

It would be a lot easier if you could use a different installer, one that interfaces to you using a USB keyboard and the VGA or HDMI port on the board.

Another option is to make or use an installer that doesn't need user interaction, but installs Debian following a configuration file that describes your board.
The Debian-installer supports non-interactive installation through the "preseed" mechanism, which lets you provide predetermined configuration choices using a configuration file. See Debian wiki preseed.

Another option is to get yourself a Raspberry Pi or another embedded board that has more programming support.

  • Debian-installer supports non-interactive installation through the "preseed" mechanism, which lets you provide predetermined configuration choices using a configuration file wiki.debian.org/DebianInstaller/Preseed
    – rakslice
    Oct 9, 2018 at 2:50
  • @rakslice Added your answer.
    – NZD
    Oct 10, 2018 at 18:14

I do strongly advise anyone doing some serious work on pi compatible boards getting a PL2303 serial cable.

Tipically, the cable also costs around 1.5 Euros in ali express, and allows you to connect the console/JTAG pins of your board to an USB interface, and use minicom to debug/talk with your board, and have a command line console.

Some boards might not support video or you might want to disable video to save resources. On top of that, (HDMI) video is enabled relatively late in the bootup process, and without a cable you won't be able to debug boot problems that happen before that, or run boot diagnostics on the board.

As @Gilles also correctly states, in some situations there migh be a need to interact with the boot loader, and that is only doable via the JTAG/console pins.

I have myself an A20 based Allwiner board, and have found the serial cable invaluable to get out of complicate situations.

I actually have a cable permanently installed for each board I have, for not having to open their cases each time I need it. They also are far less bulky than having a monitor/TV+a keyboard around.

Also having having electrical problems in the board, you will also likely damage the HDMI connector of your TV, whilst otherwise you will most likely burn the PL2303 chip of the cable.

A last word of caution: follow closely diagrams to connect it. The red/+5V wire in the PL2303 is not used in the allwiner boards, and in fact you will at least damage the PL2303 chip if you use it.

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