BSoD screensaver and my dying laptop

This can’t be good…

I use Windows most of the time, but needed to get a handle on what people are running.
For reasons I don’t want to get into, my product requires several different executables to address combinations of data width (32- or 64-bit or Itanium 64-bit), kernal version (2.4 or 2.6) and the GNU C library (2.2.* or 2.3.*) used by our customers. The engineers all have 64-bit machines running Red Hat or SuSE, so the right combinations are always covered for those. Unfortunately, several of my alpha testers are using laptops (e.g., 32-bit like everyone else) with modern (2.6 kernal) flavors of Linux. When they install the only option we provide, a version for the 2.4 kernel which, I understand, turned five in October, they still can’t run the product out of the box. To better understand the issue, and to satisfy my own curiousity about modern Linuxes, I’ve been installing different varieties of Linux platforms on a smattering of accessible 32-bit machines:

  • My home laptop is gasping its last dipoles (and is a reason my bloggin’s dropped off). I tried Open SuSE 10. This is a very pretty implementation with a window manager most compatible with Windows supporting all of my favorite keyboard shortcuts. Most impressive, though, was it recognized my printer and wireless card right off the bat. Unfortunately, the installer never prompted me about where I wanted the boot loader to go. It overwrote my boot sector, temporarily knocking out Windows XP. It confirmed that my laptop’s hardware is a problem.
  • My work hand-me-down laptop — Fedora Core 4 installed without a hitch. Damn, this is so much easier than my days with Slackware, trying to nail down the video refresh rates so X-windows would run.
  • My work desktop is new, and thus has a ton of free disk space. I repartitioned the drive to set up multiple linuxes. Mandriva installed was smart enough to configure its loader to include an option for booting Windows XP. Its user interface is slick, but not as polished as SuSE. Fedora Core 4 and Open SuSE 10 are having a lot of problems with the video driver. The Debian media had some kind of error on the first DVD, so I never got that far. If I have time, I want to take a look at Solaris x86, though I suspect it’s going to be different enough from conventional Linux that I don’t want to spend much time with it. I’ll keep an open mind…

SuSE, the most polished, also has the coolest screen savers, occasionally prompting people to peek in and ask what I was animating. It cycles through the savers randomly, spending most of this morning displaying bar codes with subversive titles like “mescaline” and “nationalism” and “fruit.” While fiddling around looking for the list, I came to the coolest set of screensavers of them all, the BSoD, aka “Blue Screen of Death.” Its configuration is set up to depict startup screens and crashing from a variety of operating systems of yore. The selection included Windows 3.1/95/NT, Amiga, VMS, IBM OS/390, Mac (bomb, sad mac), Atari, and Apple ][+. Seeing the “Guru Meditation” brought back fond(?) memories of the Amiga I had in college, but the level of detail is hilarious. For example, the Apple ][+ version has static on the screen and ghosting of the large lettering… just like they did back in 1981!

You know I must work in marketing when I’m impressed with screen savers and cosmetic appearances over the nuances of what’s in the /etc/ directory.

I think the problem with my home laptop is the motherboard’s stuck in a mode where it thinks the machine’s overheating, so the fans run constantly and the CPU is extremely slow. I took it apart to blow out the dust.
and looked for interesting BIOS settings, but the problem is getting progressively worse. In laptop-years, it’s over a hundred years old, with dubious benefits of spending a lot of money to keep it running. I’m going to try to either part it out on eBay or sell it to someone who will.

This is definitely bad…

As soon as I started looking for a replacement, I realized how spoiled I’ve become with my current machine’s native 1600×1200 resolution capability. None of the laptops I saw in the store will support this. Even the ultra-wide 17″ screens chop it to 1024 high. Pixels the size of my thumb? Online options were similarly limited: HP, Gateway, Toshiba and Sony don’t offer any big screens. The decision seemed to be narrowed to two brands: AlienWare and Dell. I liked the subversive cheekiness and high-performance options with AlienWare, but their mid-level home model is only offered with a “Depot” warranty, as in “Send the thing back to Miami and do without a computer for two weeks.” Frack that. (In the three years my current machine was under warranty I had four service calls: new hard drive, motherboard, keyboard, broken DVD reader (my fault) and cooling fans. Five incidents.) An “on-site” warranty is offered for $1,200 more with what’s essentially a small desktop with a flip screen. Those have some serious high-end hardware options, well-beyond my need to occasionally doctor photos of carnivorous plants.

So, back to Dell. They have a gillion models and are like Sleep Country USA (and its evil twin Sleep Country Canada) in that there is always have some kind of “better buy quick!” special. While I’ve been waiting for the right one, I’ve been playing with the configurator, getting a feel for how they price their products. Dell also sends paper adverts in magazines with “e-codes,” essentially pre-configured with low-end options, but slightly discounted. This gave me a sense that there are discounts available.

Meanwhile, I noticed a few new, well-equipped laptops popping up on eBay at prices that are better than on Dell’s own site. The machines have only the basic warranty, from Dell, and that’s theoretically transferrable. Since eBay is so fraught with peril, I checked out the sellers thoroughly. Most had “100%” feedback — anything less than 99.7% on eBay is a red flag — and had been around for a few years with a smattering of transactions. But, within the last month, now have all these “sealed Inspiron 9300” laptops for sale. Hmmm… yellow alert.

I also looked at what these people bought and saw one had a transaction marked “private.” That seller, had a bunch of private transactions, but two screens down someone had left “feedback” thanking them for the discount code. Hmmm… More judicious googling later, and I found people willing to sell me the same “secret” for a mere $2.99. Convinced this is either the miracle weight loss pills or some pyramid scheme, I googled around for the particular words used.

There are a lot of sites listing coupon codes. Some of them are utter junk, but one of them genuinely worked, saving me $250 over the current “special.” The machine I ordered the machine on Monday is tricked out with a 1920 x 1200 screen and built-in wireless. It should arrive late next week.


  1. Wow… I’m not even sure I follow your purchasing G2 but I bow to your inventiveness. (I’m also impressed about your own flavor of free shipping illustrated in your most recent entry…)

    And I did catch your excuse for your recent lack of entries… I trust this new purchase will render that excuse even more lame that it already is???

  2. Good call on the Solaris x86; it’s *quite* different from the various linux flavours in circulation. I wonder what its market penertration is like?

  3. Hi there,
    I know it’s been a while since you wrote that article, but just in case: if you haven’t gotten rid of your dying laptop, you might try ripping out the thermal pad/tape and replace it with some sane thermal grease, maybe even Arctic Silver.

    With my Latitude CPiA falling apart, I noticed after exchanging the PII CPU for a PIII that the heat levels are much more bursty than before, indicating the heat is dissipated much faster now that the pad is gone and a relatively huge amount of Arctic Silver V is filling the gap. I had to apply loads of the stuff to make sure the sink is in contact, but those MMC2 CPUs differ a lot from newer silicon wrt. how the cooling solution fits on top. Maybe you won’t have to get that messy, after all.

    While the keyboard still is hand warm just as before, the beast reports the lowest temperature the sensors are capable of reporting (25

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