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I have a laptop (a Medion from Aldi) that tends to hang quite often - so often, in fact, that several attempts to install Windows XP or Ubuntu on it have all failed.

However, I am able to boot and run Ubuntu as found on the standard Ubuntu 10.10 installation image. I have done this two times thus far.

The first time everything was running smoothly, until at some point the GUI (i.e. X) became unresponsive. The cursor kept moving with the mouse, but menus would no longer show and clicking things no longer produced any response.

So I switched to the consoles (Ctrl-F1, Ctrl-F2, etc.), which in this setup automatically run shells. The shells were still responsive, and the cd command would still work, but any command that invoked an executable (e.g. /bin/ls or cd /bin; ./find caused the shell to hang up uninterruptibly. My hypothesis was that all attempts at disk access were hanging up, but I didn't actually try a command like echo /proc/$$ or while read line; do echo $line; done < /var/log/syslog to verify this. Another possibility is that an essential system library is cached in memory and somehow failing to function properly.

The second time I left the system running overnight and it didn't hang itself spontaneously. I'm not sure I have the patience to just twiddle with the running system until the condition reappears, and I'm not sure what to do once it does.

Clearly we can rule out a software cause. It seems disk access related, but clearly it's not permanent hard disk failure because the system will reboot just fine.

What kind of hardware problem might produce these symptoms? Can it be a memory problem?

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Totally off-topic, but a computer? At Aldi? The super-low-end discount grocery chain who only carries generic brands of everything and dented cans and stuff? Do they maybe have a different business model overseas (I am in the US)? –  Shinrai Dec 22 '10 at 15:18
    
Yes, in Holland Aldi sells all kinds of stuff in one-time offers, including cheaper electronics, sometimes even from decent brands. Depending on the offer, it can be a good deal - though you should expect queues in sleeping bags, as in Iphone launch. –  Cerberus Dec 22 '10 at 15:25
    
@Shinrai As a computer engineer, I come across loads of medions from Aldi... I must say, they're not all that bad! –  BloodPhilia Dec 22 '10 at 15:46
    
@Shinrai: in Western Europe the Aldi formula is: only Aldi-specific brands; cheap supplies of basic, popular items to draw customers (but no longer cheaper than competitors) plus lots of special offers (not necessarily at bottom prices). Medion is their brand for computer equipment. –  reinierpost Dec 22 '10 at 16:17
    
Thanks for sating my curiosity, folks. Every one I've ever been to here, you're lucky to even find Cheez-its, let alone laptops. ;) –  Shinrai Dec 22 '10 at 16:25
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2 Answers

Could either be a memory or hard drive problem. I recommend running a memtest first to rule that out. It should be on a Ubuntu Live CD as well. After that, you might want to try and replace your hard drive if you have one lying around.

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How can it be a hard drive problem if it disappears on reboot? –  reinierpost Dec 22 '10 at 15:04
    
(I have no spare parts for this system.) –  reinierpost Dec 22 '10 at 15:05
    
@reinierpost Because hard drive failures don't always show. If your drive is on the brink of failure, it might work fine after it has been reinitialized and show defects after being in use for a while. But I recommend using the memtest first. –  BloodPhilia Dec 22 '10 at 15:06
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Second that. For diagnostics, try a hard drive monitor (a program that can read SMART info off your HD) to assess your HD's health. I believe Speedfan reads SMART data. Download Speedfan from almico.com: siteadvisor.com/sites/almico.com –  Cerberus Dec 22 '10 at 15:28
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@reinierpost Hiren's BootCD has a tool called "SmartUDM 2.00" that will read the SMART status from a liveCD, no need to install anything on Windows. Download here: hirensbootcd.org –  BloodPhilia Dec 22 '10 at 16:12
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Run from a live cd. If you don't want to take the time to run SMART tests and mem tests, just having it run from the livecd will confirm/rule out the disk.

Very doubtful that it could be memory related. If it was, you would not have been able to access the ctrl F1 console. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and guarantee you that it is not the memory.

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So if you run an OS from a live CD, the OS never uses a page file, even it sees the HD as accessible? Just interested. –  Cerberus Dec 22 '10 at 21:58
    
I forgot to mention that the files on the existing disk can be read just fine until the system enters this state in which every command will hang. That's how I know the hard disk isn't failing permanently. –  reinierpost Dec 22 '10 at 22:21
    
@Cerberus: With the livecd, the memory is used for that function, or for swap in the case of Linux. –  Flotsam N. Jetsam Dec 23 '10 at 1:51
    
@reinerpost: So it is conceivable that the disk sort of locks up, suddenly. The system is able to work with anything it already has loaded into memory, but no disk i/o is possible post lockup. Try the livecd. –  Flotsam N. Jetsam Dec 23 '10 at 1:54
    
Will do, thanks ... –  reinierpost Dec 23 '10 at 10:16
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