I was happily using my computer yesterday when it froze. I waited for a few minutes (thinking “Linux isn’t supposed to do this – at the worst, X could crash, but why would everything freeze?”), and then rebooted it.
At this point, things got a little scary: it complained right at the start about a bad read from memory, and when I (probably misguidedly) told it to soldier on, had a kernel panic quite quickly.
So I turned it off again and got out my screwdrivers. It took me quite a while to get at the memory: I’d installed memory on this machine, and recalled it being quite easy, but with the computer not working I couldn’t go to Dell’s web site to download instructions! And the panel that was my first guess was quite hard to get open; I was a little nervous about prying it open, because I didn’t want to break anything.
Eventually (after looking everywhere else that was at all likely), I pried open the panel in question, and the memory was indeed right behind it. I reseated the memory, but it still wouldn’t boot properly. (By this time, I was getting quite nervous: it had been a while since I’d last backed up the machine, and I’d rather not lose even a day of saved mail, let alone a month or two.) I took out one of the DIMMs; still wouldn’t boot. I took the other one out and put the first one back in.
That time, it booted. Yay. So I backed up the hard drive, and then thought about things. I figured that probably one of my DIMMs had gone bad, but I wanted to double check.
So I swapped DIMMs again (back to the previous configuration, which had failed); this time it booted fine. Very odd! But it was late, and I needed to go back to bed, so I swapped DIMMs again (so I had 256 MB of memory instead of 128 MB).
Another datum: the only direct evidence that memory was bad was a complaint from the computer the first few times I rebooted. On later failures, I didn’t see any complaints about memory. So maybe it’s not the memory at all? The next thing I thought of was overheating, and I’m still sticking with that theory. I did leave the computer turned on while sitting on the carpet for an hour or two yesterday; that may have interfered with the fans a bit, and I think the computer might also dissipate heat through the bottom, which wouldn’t work too well if sitting on carpet.
So it’s probably under control now, though I still have to verify my theory (or at least verify that it isn’t the memory) by putting the memory back in. Still, it gave me a bit of a shock. And I really should get my backup story better under control. At some point, we might get a desktop machine in addition to the laptop; that will help, at least… Maybe I should look into web backup solutions; there has to be somebody out there who will do this for cheap, I’d think.
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