Resurrection of a Desktop - An Epic in Computer Repair
As my computer has aged, it has revealed a personality that is rather cranky - a personality it expresses with part failures. Unfortunately for me, a few days ago, the expression of my computer’s nature lead it to prevent me from logging into to Fedora, prompting me to begin a computer repair of truly epic proportions.
It all began when I ran an update that required me to log out upon completion - and then found myself unable to log back in.
For quite some time I was unable to login into Fedora, the login manager (gdm) having corrupted during an update. Before realizing that just reinstalling gdm would get things working correctly again, I was intending to reinstall the whole system - until I discovered that I couldn’t boot USB (and the DVD drive hadn’t been working for months). That having failed, it occurred to me that reseting the BIOS might make things work again - sounds a bit crazy to be sure, but this has worked for me a number of times before.
So, I set the BIOS back to optimized defaults and was rather dismayed to discover I no longer could boot at all, even lacking grub. On the bright side, was able to boot off a USB - which I used to run Memtest86. The RAM turned out to be just fine.
After a few hours of irritation, during which time I setup my laptop so that it would use one of my monitors to give me more screen real estate while I worked on a programming project due the following day, I discover that reseting the BIOS had somehow screwed up the boot order of the drives, a probably because for whatever reason my BIOS only looks at the highest priority hard drive when booting (a relatively recent development).
Well, having finally gotten to where I could boot Fedora until getting stuck at the graphical login manager, I finally began to get somewhat desperate. I booted into Windows - successfully I might add.
With the knowledge that my computer COULD properly boot and login, I began to look into further methods to restore life to my computer. After a while, I hit upon the idea of flashing a BIOS update onto my motherboard, hoping that it might fix the errors that the motherboard was having. I did the research on the motherboard, discovering that BIOS version “F” was out - with my board still running version “A”. So, I booted into Windows, and used the program provided with the firmware to update my BIOS. This went smoothly, save for the fact that Windows was running rather slowly (even by the standards of Windows).
Having flashed the BIOS, I heaved a sigh of relief when the motherboard posted - at least I hadn’t screwed that up. I quickly found that Fedora still couldn’t login, but Windows was fine (other than the speed issues).
Around this point, I realized that gdm was probably the culprit, and switched to another console (by pressing
Alt F2). I reinstalled gdm and found that after I rebooted I was finally able to login.
Oh, but I was happy. . .for a short while. Then I realized that Fedora was running almost as slow as Windows had been when I flashed the BIOS, certainly slower than it had been before the problems began and far slower than it should be running.
At this point I knew that unless my motherboard was truly ready for the scrap heap, another component had to be the true culprit. I had been hearing quite a bit of scrolling on my hard drive during the times Fedora slowed down the most, and decided to run a S.M.A.R.T. test on the drive. It passed - but I wasn’t ready to coincide that this five year old drive wasn’t the root of my problems. So I ran a long test - which gave me a value that appeared to indicate 80% of the time it had read errors. I looked into it further, finally discovering how to access the error logs the drive kept, discovering over 12600 errors. At that point, I finally came to the conclusion that my hard drive finally needed to be replaced.
The next day, I bought a Western Digital Caviar Black 500 gigabyte drive. Once I installed it, I booted into Knoppix, and began to clone the old drive to the new drive. Of course, things couldn’t go that smoothly - I managed to reverse the directions the drives went, and wiped my old drive.
So, it was back to reinstalling Fedora, and reloading an image of Windows onto the drive.
On a side note, while I was putting the new hard drive in, I swapped the IDE cable for my DVD drive to a new connector on the motherboard - which lead to the drive working again.
I loaded the Fedora Electronics Lab Live image onto my USB drive, and began the installation process - which ended up taking me several hours when my computer decided to dig in its heels and hard crash the computer on a regular basis. I finally discovered that the problem usually occurred when I attempted to partition the drive with the installer, and so loaded Gparted and partitioned the drives ahead of the time. Unfortunately, it took me around three hours of on-again-off-again installation attempts to finally realize that was the way things had to be done.
With Fedora finally installed (a remarkably short and easy process if your computer doesn’t crash while you do it), the whole process began to speed up. After I installed most of the programs that I use, I simply restored my home folder from a backup (I back up on a nightly basis). I even had the same Firefox tabs open as I had before. I was quickly able to setup the remaining parts of my system, having to modify only a couple of crontabs (for the root as well as my regular user) and the fstab.
At this point I still haven’t reloaded Windows, but I should be able to restore it from an image relatively quickly, so I’m not concerned about doing so.
Of course, at the time of writing this, it turns out that the SSH deamon on my server has crashed, and the server no longer responds to pings - despite still serving my site.