Archive for January, 2012

Linux Saves Older Computer

01.29.12

Posted by adamlinuxhelp  |  1 Comment »

I have an old computer. I say old although I don’t really know what “Old” means. It’s an E-machines T-5048 computer with a P4 Processor running at 3.06GHz with 2 Gig of Ram (the system’s maximum).

When I got the machine, it had Windows XP Media Center, and I got rid of that in favor of Linux. The machine’s sticker read “Vista Ready”. So the machine had hardware that can run Vista. Whoopee. The next question is, “Should I run Vista?”, and based on poor experiences with it on other machines. The answer is a short and quick “No. No Way. Not Now. Not Ever”.

With Linux, the machine ran just fine for years with several different flavors, notably Linux Mint, Crunchbang, and at the end of the summer 2011, Ubuntu. Ubuntu 11.04 ran fine on it, worked right out of the box, no hassles. Eventually, it was time to upgrade to Ubuntu 11.10.

Or was it?

I wanted to do a fresh install from CD. While using the GUI “Update your OS now with this click of a button and when it’s all done you’ll have the latest and greatest” button is nice and convenient, but I wanted a fresh start for better performance. Remember, it’s an old machine. So I downloaded and burned the .iso image for 11.10, installed it, and then…. on restart … no boot. At all. Machine hang on “Waiting for /dev to fully populate“.

Nice. Lovely. Exciting, boring, and scary all at once. I am so happy that I backed up of all my files before attempting the upgrade. Yes, do back up your stuff. Unexpected Boot failures are one of the reasons “why” a backup is so important.

So, being a Linux geek for several years, you learn to keep a toolbox full of rescue CDs, alternate OS downloads, and partitioning software as well.

Being a computer nerd, you learn to troubleshoot things in a way that hopefully make sense. You try to repeat the issue and where possible, isolate the cause of it. Anything “/dev” is usually a tell that somethings wrong with a “device” which is typically hardware-related.

So I checked to see if the CD-burner was bad. I donwloaded a USB version of the Ubuntu Live CD, and got same result, machine would not boot up. Ruled out the CD-rom at that point. Next, on to the hard drive. Bad hard drives don’t always let you know that they are going to fail. I swapped out the current drive with an older drive of the same architecture (ATA). Although it had less storage space, (20 Gig as opposed to 160) it was just perfect for troubleshooting. If I could repeat the same error with a different Hard Drive, then the problem isn’t the hard drive (that is unless both drives were bad for exactly the same reasons).

I then tried other modern Linux Distributions, installing their latest OS. Same problem, so at least that lets Ubuntu off the hook.

At that point, I kind of figured that another piece of hardware, that was probably not worth fixing, was broken or damaged to the point of “no boot up for you” status. If it’s not worth fixing well, the computer has got to go, right? I started shopping around for a good deal on a modern, fast PC with NO Operating System. Makes no sense to pay for the OS when you’re only going to wipe it out anyway in order to put Linux on it. Not interested in dual-booting for my main workstation. It’s Linux. Period. The best price I could find was an HP Machine (with Windows 7 Home Premium) for $300.00 –not a bad price mind you for a new system.

However, instead of immediately breaking out the credit card, I felt there was one last thing I thought I should test. That’s right. Since Linux gives you so many choices of Operating Systems, it was time to experiment in that domain.
Since I tried swapping out current hardware for old hardware to test, it was time to swap out current “software” for older software and then test again.

Knowing that Ubuntu’s normal release cycle is every 6 months, it did not make sense to reload 11.04 as it will (at some point via upgrade) request that I upgrade to the 3.0 kernel. I don’t think this machine can run that kernel. Something to do with ACPI. I’ve written on a few support forums asking why the machine won’t boot up with latest Linux kernels. There has been no “direct” answer, but after a lot of googling it seems that on machines that were able to run Ubuntu 11.04 with no issue, but can’t boot 11.10 claim it’s some sort of issue with ACPI, I figured perhaps that’s my problem as well.

So I would need an older Linux version, but one with longer term support. Enter Ubuntu 10.04.3 LTS. Installed and booted this machine (yes, the one that I’m typing this post on right now) with no problems. Got the machine running quite fast as well, and it boots up in a reasonable amount of time too.
Until I find an easy way to make modern Linux run on this machine (and by that I mean the ability to boot up) I’m going to stick with 10.04 LTS until its support lifecycle concludes (April of 2013). By that time, I’d be running that software for more than a full year beyond the day when I thought I’d have to replace this machine. Nice. Linux saves the day, and saved me the cost of buying a new computer.

Cheers,
Adam