OK, since I’ve decided to blog a little, I may as well start with something that is driving me nuts. After all, the point of this is to attain a little catharsis (at least, that’s my point).
My current laptop (now 2 years old) is a Sager NP8890 Force (this model is no longer available), purchased from PowerNotebooks. While it has nothing to do with this post, I’ll digress and say a few words about Sager and PowerNotebooks.
Sager (the “g” is soft, as in “rage”) makes excellent notebooks, and I couldn’t be happier with mine. I also purchased 2 others (models NP4780) for my wife and my godson. Mine still keeps me happy (very beefy), especially the 16″ LCD (can’t find them nowadays!), which gives me 1600×1200 in a normal LCD (meaning, not the short, wide-screen varieties). The only downside to this laptop is that it weighs as much as a refrigerator (seriously, it’s something like 12 pounds not including the toaster-oven-sized power-brick, etc.).
The weight of the machine is what brings me to this frustrating odyssey…
The second digression is about PowerNotebooks. A wide-variety of first-class notebooks, available at excellent prices, with fantastic customer support. Most of the models can be customized completely, so that you don’t pay for things you don’t want, but can get ultra-high-end things that you do. For example, in my Sager NP8890, I have 2 60GB 7200RPM drives (remember, this was 2 years ago!). I also purchased it without an OS, since I intended to put Linux on it (that lasted 6 weeks, before I bought a copy of Windows XP and reverted back to the joys and problems that come with that choice…).
OK, so on to the real point of this post. I travel a lot for business, and spend way too many nights in hotels. When the travel is to Zope Corporation, I often leave the Sager in the office, since it’s such a bear to pack up and lug back and forth. It’s definitely not a “laptop”, it’s a complete traveling super-computer ;-). It needs a separate “bed tray”, etc., in order to really use it comfortably in a hotel room.
I’m not the crazed workaholic that I was for the longest time, and I can now truly relax when back in the hotel room. That said, two of my preferred methods of relaxation still involve a computer:
- Online Poker (yes, I’m annoyed at the Washingtonians who think they’re saving my soul by making it harder for me to fund my account)
- Watching my home DirecTivo via my Slingbox
As much as I like #1 and #2 above, I simply don’t hassle with dragging the Sager back-and-forth in order to enjoy them, so I simply exercise and watch cable tv in the room 🙁
Then one day at Zope Corp, I noticed that they had an ancient Dell Latitude LS400 (from 2000, with 256MB Ram, 20GB disk, 12.1″ Screen). I asked if it was “available”, and indeed, it was. Why? Because it mysteriously “halted” too frequently to be useful.
I should have just accepted that the people at Zope Corp are as techy as they get, and if this machine were rescuable, they would have figured it out. But noooooo, I had to display my typical macho tech tendency to bull through any problem (admittedly, usually with success) 😉
So, I bravely took the machine home. It kept dying on me too with the installation of Windows XP which was on the machine. The theoretical reason is a broken hinge on the display (it appears to just be “cosmetic”, as the lid opens and closes nicely). I installed Ubuntu on the machine. It definitely stayed up longer, but still, on occasion would just halt. In both Windows and Linux, it never went through any kind of disk check on restart, and no data ever seemed lost, etc., so the entire experience was a little bizarre.
I ended up not using it as I had intended, and relegated it to a “spare” browser-based machine for people who visited me in NY who wanted to check their email, etc. It worked reasonably well for that, except on the occasions where it chose to just die…
A few months later, I had a “brainstorm”, and decided to check the Dell site for any Bios updates. Sure enough, there was one update, which had this tantalizing tidbit in it:
1. Fixed System intermittently shutdown issue on W2K.
2. Modified the help text on Battery Auto-Learning page.
3. Fixed an intermittent standby / resume issue when RBATT drains completely.
Oooh. #1 sounded like I might be in luck! Of course, now I was about to descend into a new level of computer hell. The only way that you can flash the BIOS is to boot from a floppy. This laptop has no floppy, and I don’t have an external one either (USB or otherwise). I have an external CD/DVD drive that connects on the backplane. After a number of twists and turns, I was able to transfer the floppy image to a CD image on my Sager, and then boot off the CD on the Dell, and the BIOS flashed correctly. Yippee!
I then decided to put Windows XP back on the machine, since Linux was useful as a browser-based machine, but it doesn’t have a client for Sling or Poker (at least not my current site). After the many hours of loading it all on, applying all of the updates (painful over a WiFi connection), and the inordinate number of reboots involved, all with the machine “up and running” throughout, I thought “OK, this odyssey was worth it, as I’ve finally come to where I wanted to be!”.
To make a long story even longer, the correct answer was “Bzzzzzt”. When I launched SlingPayer, it worked fine and I was happy. However, when I installed and tested the Palm Desktop software from Sprint (which was necessary in order to install Sprint PCS Connection Manager so that I could get high-speed access via my Treo 700p phone), the system crashed. Not only that, but it crashed every single time at the same point during the install, which was when I clicked “Install latest settings from the Internet (Recommended)”.
After 3 failed attempts, I installed the Palm software without the Internet update, and it installed fine. After a reboot, a check of the Sling Player yielded an instant crash. Three more times with the same results (with a boot in-between each attempt).
Clearly Sling Player hadn’t moved on the disk, so it was unlikely that there was a bad spot on the disk where the app was installed. OK, perhaps memory related? I rebooted with a CD with a Linux Memtest86 app on it. 2 hours later, after 3 successful rotations of all of the memory tests, it would seem that I didn’t have a RAM problem.
I then ran a Windows XP “Checkdisk”, which can only be run on a fresh boot. It appears to check every sector of the disk, because after checking all “files”, it also checks all “free space”. All 5 “phases” passed without any errors.
So, the memory appears to be OK, and the disk appears to be OK, but somehow, the machine isn’t stable. This is with both Linux and Windows XP on it, so it can’t be as simple as “it’s the OS stupid”.
I tried running Sling again, and it loaded fine (after some more XP patches). It came up fine, and I was watching TV for roughly 30 minutes and then the machine halted again, with no new activity other than the continuation of the Sling session.
I gave up…
The only thing left to do, which smacks to me of “superstition”, but might end up working, is installing Windows 2000 on the machine. After all, the BIOS update specifically states that the random crashes are fixed on Windows 2000, not Windows XP (which isn’t mentioned, and therefore likely isn’t supported).
All that said, I also found used Dell Latitude L400’s for sale for $299 plus shipping. Seems like a high price to pay for such an outdated laptop, but it’s also a very nice “package” for what I want. Ideally, I’d buy an OQO or a Sony UX280P, and I probably just should bite the bullet, but they are so expensive relative to the L400 that I’m having a hard time justifying it…
Anyway, for now, I’ll just suffer along (after trying the Windows 2000 install, of course) 😉