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Old 02-01-2005, 02:54 PM   #1
wapcaplet
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IBM Thinkpad a20p hard disk/lockup issues


This isn't especially a Linux question, but I didn't really want to post in General and risk my question being buried in other discussion.

A guy I work with has an IBM Thinkpad a20p laptop that I'm troubleshooting for him. He said he had been messing around with partitioning and had somehow borked it so that it wouldn't boot.

He doesn't care about wiping the hard drive and starting over, so I've used Knoppix to create a single primary partition (18GB).

The difficulty lies in trying to create a filesystem on it. I used mkntfs under Knoppix; during the "filling the drive with 0" part, it reached 37% and the computer locked up completely. No mouse control, no three-finger salute.

Using a Windows XP installation disc, a similar thing happens: as it is formatting the partition, at some intedeterminate time everything locks up. Once it was at 5%, another at 47% or so.

Thought it might be bad blocks, but I tried (back in Knoppix) using 'badblocks' first in a very extensive four-pass write test. It locked up trying to read the first pass; again, hard lockup, not just program crashing. Trying it a second time with the default options (presumably a simple read test) locked it up almost immediately.

So, it _seems_ to be directly related to the hard disk. Some initial accesses will work (hdparm, for instance), and it always makes at least some progress in formatting or badblock-checking. However, there were a few times when it seemed to lock up before even reaching the IBM splash screen at boot time (but then again, there may have been hard drive access).

Anyone know what could cause something like this? And can it be remedied without buying a new drive, or does this machine need to become a dedicated Knoppix box?

He wants Windows XP, but he has mentioned that all he really wants to do with it is use it for watching DVDs, which I could rig him up with in Linux, if XP won't cooperate. I haven't tried using another filesystem, but that's what I'll attempt next.

Edit: OK, I answered some of my own questions. I took out the hard drive (nice modular design!) and tried booting just from CD. Lots of lockups, sometimes before the IBM logo shows up. Sometimes when trying to go into the BIOS setup. So apparently, it isn't the hard drive.

Just to rule out one more possibility, I tried with the power adapter unplugged. No difference there - so it's not any kind of voltage spike or oddity in the adapter.

If it's the CPU, then it's probably a lost cause. I don't know if it would be worth the money to replace the CPU, though admittedly it is a very nice laptop (700mhz, 128MB RAM, 18GB hard drive assuming nothing's wrong with it). As the owner said, if there's nothing I can do then it's basically a "boat anchor", but then went on to point out that it's so light it wouldn't be very good at that either.

Last edited by wapcaplet; 02-01-2005 at 03:20 PM.
 
Old 02-01-2005, 05:45 PM   #2
jiml8
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Try removing and replacing the RAM. Remove all external covers and clean out all dust bunnies. More often than you might believe, that will work.
 
Old 02-01-2005, 07:57 PM   #3
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Indeed, one of the RAM modules was slightly ajar. I snapped it back in and it seems to be working OK now - it's been running 'badblocks' for several hours with no lockups, and so far the disk seems good.

It's so easy to forget the obvious mechanical problems, sometimes I hope that's all it was. Thanks!
 
Old 02-01-2005, 09:01 PM   #4
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Unt der Doktor hass successfully com-pleeted anudder diagnosis.
 
Old 02-01-2005, 10:23 PM   #5
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'badblocks' finished and found no bad sectors (yay!). mkntfs worked this time. I took a closer look at the RAM, and it looks like one of the spring clips that holds it in wasn't tight enough. I managed to get it fairly secure, but a slight bump at just the right angle could still knock it out again. I'm pretty confident that was the cause, though. Guess we'll see once I get Windows installed!
 
Old 02-03-2005, 07:56 PM   #6
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Bad news - I'm starting to wonder if the RAM really is the problem. I've still been having random lockups (sometimes before it even starts booting, sometimes after it's been running for a few hours). I have cleaned the RAM contacts with rubbing alcohol and have wedged small bits of folded-up paper into the memory clips to make sure they are secure, and it's still happening.

I'm planning to run memtest86 on it, if I can get it booted again, but I think it's time to look for other possible causes.

Anyone know what else could cause something like this? On a desktop, I'd look at the power supply, but with a laptop that would involve a little more screw-loosening than I'm comfortable with.

Last edited by wapcaplet; 02-03-2005 at 08:05 PM.
 
Old 02-03-2005, 08:37 PM   #7
jiml8
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I'm still going to say bad connection. Maybe not RAM, but it is unlikely to be a coincidence that after you had it apart and removed/replaced some connections it worked.

Try the dust bunny thing. Remove the battery and clean THOSE contacts.
 
Old 02-03-2005, 10:47 PM   #8
wapcaplet
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Yeah, it's pretty much gotta be a bad connection, as randomly as it is occurring.

After some more fiddling with the RAM, Knoppix boots and shows 512MB RAM in total (it was only 256 last time!) Maybe it really is the RAM, since every time I nudge it, the problem goes away for a while.

I took a good look at the RAM contacts. They look something like this:

Code:
    --v---
=========
    ^-----
The v and ^ are tiny wires that protrude from the plastic slot (the minus signs). The memory card (===) sticks out the left, and is pushed downwards, thus contacting on both sides. When it's not pressed down _all the way_, I'm thinking some of the wires aren't making full contact. The tiny metal clips that hold it down just aren't strong enough.

So, I remaneuvered the bits of paper to wedge the ram downwards tightly. I'll give it a few hours and see if anything bad happens
 
Old 02-14-2005, 05:42 PM   #9
jiml8
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and the result is...
 
Old 02-14-2005, 07:27 PM   #10
wapcaplet
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The bits of paper ended up not holding, and the RAM got even looser than before. My final solution, before giving the laptop back to my friend, was to use a thick piece of stiff plastic to hold the RAM down.

It's an unfortunate design; the clips don't appear strong enough to hold after the RAM has been removed/reinserted just a few times. The clips are soldered to the mainboard, so replacing them isn't much of an option.

Anyhow, it seemed to work, and he seems happy with it.
 
Old 02-14-2005, 09:26 PM   #11
jiml8
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I hope it holds. I wonder if a mount is broken someplace, if the clips keep getting looser.
 
  


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