Thinkpad T61 woes

12.12.2009 22:36

I'm using a Thinkpad T61 laptop as my main computer at work. Thinkpads appear to have a reputation of being reliable, well-built laptops that are relatively pain-free when running Linux. Unfortunately my experience in the previous two years has been a bit different than that.

The last one in the row of problems appeared on Friday, when the laptop started randomly crashing. The screen would freeze and the capslock light would start flashing a couple of minutes after each reboot, signaling a kernel panic.

Since nothing like that has happened since I started using this computer two years ago, I first suspected a hardware failure. I ran memtest86+ and it did found a fault in one of the 2 GB SODIMMs installed. I replaced the bad board and memtest86+ ran for 12 hours without detecting any more faults. I also ran the official Lenovo diagnostics and it found nothing wrong with the rest of the hardware (by the way, the part that tests NVIDIA GPU could have easily gotten a place in a modern arts gallery).

However, the crashes kept occurring. Then I did some more through Googling and found Debian bug #512696 "Kernel panic when using iwl4965". That got my attention because I recently experimented with 2.6.30 kernel from Debian Squeeze (otherwise I use the stable Lenny). I found that firmware-iwlwifi package did in fact get upgraded to 0.18 and when I went back to kernel from Lenny it didn't downgrade as well.

So I forced a downgrade back to version 0.14+lenny2 from Lenny and the crashes now seem to be gone for good.

The only thing still bothering me about this is that it appears I was using faulty RAM without noticing for who knows how long. I wonder how many files got silently corrupted because of that? How many unexplainable crashes in the software I'm working on at work were caused by it?

Update: Ok, I'm not sure what was wrong here, but firmware-iwlwifi 0.14+lenny2 was also causing kernel panics. Now I'm using firmware-iwlwifi 0.18 and linux-image-2.6.30-2-686-bigmem 2.6.30-8 and so far I've been lucky.

Posted by Tomaž | Categories: Code

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