What is the difference between Linux Kernel 5.3.0-1039-gke and 4.15.0-124-generic?

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Problem :

A few months ago I bought two used Dell Optiplex machines for use as a NAS and internet gateway, respectively.

I installed Ubuntu 18.04 on both of them, and I noticed that even though the exact same version of Ubuntu was installed on both (Ubuntu Server 18.04.5 LTS), neither of them have any packages that can be upgraded, and the hardware is also the exact same between both machines (only difference is the NAS has a larger SSD and more RAM than the gateway, everything else is the same), these two machines have different kernel versions.

I know very little about the Linux kernel or what its different versions means. I’m curious what is the difference between Linux Kernel version 5.3.0-1039-gke (the one which is installed on my NAS) and Linux Kernel 4.15.0-124-generic (the one installed on my gateway). Also possibly worth mentioning that neither of these machines came with an OS installed (or hard disk).

Both of these are running the same Ubuntu installation that I flashed onto a USB flash drive, both were installed onto new, fresh/blank SSDs. What is the difference between these two kernels, why are the kernels different on hardware that is the same, and is either of these kernels better than the other?

Solution :

It seems like these two machines have different hardware — BIOS settings or something else — despite your implication that both machines are similar.

In general, the kernel that is installed on the system is the kernel that the system should be using. Which sounds odd to say, but that is basically it.

What is odd in your case is the disparity between two kernels for each Ubuntu 18.04.5 LTS install. One is 5.3.0-1039-gke and the other is 4.15.0-124-generic. This is what I know:

  • 5.3.0-1039-gke: As far as I know the gke stands for “Google Kubernetes Engine” and it would seem that kernel is specific for that usage? Odd that you have that installed on a desktop system.
  • 4.15.0-124-generic: That generic is what it means… That is a generic version of the Kernel for that install.

In general those appended designations of -gke and -generic can be read as:

“That is the optimized Kernel for those those specifications: -gke for one and -generic for another.”

That said, whet you say this:

“A few months ago I bought two used Dell Optiplex machines for use as a NAS and internet gateway, respectively.”

While your post implies both machines are 100% the same, my personal feeling is something is different between the two of them. Perhaps the motherboards or BIOS’s are different? That is the only rational explanation I can see for why there is such a wide disparity between kernel versions here.

In general though, I would not sweat it. Yes, kernel updates are important… But mainly in the context of servers that are exposed to the world. If these are just two personal machines I highly doubt you will notice a difference between the two boxes. Just enjoy them!

UPDATE: According to a comment left by the original poster, the linux-image-gke-5.3 kernel was installed when WireGuard was installed for some reason. So this was not an issue with hardware or BIOS but rather with WireGuard’s own install process.

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