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Panic on new kernel

Got a problem with a box, dual PIII/933 2GB RAM, dual 36GB SCSI drives
on a MegaRAID controller.

The box is running unstable. The original kernel,
linux-image-2.6.15-1-486, boots. However, this box is slated to run
VMware server. Since Debian is not a "supported" host OS, there are no
pre-compiled modules for the kernel. The installed kernel was built with
gcc-4.0.3, but the installed gcc is 4.1.5, which means the module will
not load.

So the problem I have is that any more recent stock kernel (I have tried
2.6.16-smp and 2.6.17) panics on boot:

Kernel panic: No init found. Try passing init= option to kernel

I have generally rolled my own kernels in the past, what is the proper
way of getting a stock kernel installed? (I have cramfsprogs and yaird


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