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As shown in this video, my computer has been crashing lately. Despite appearances to the contrary, it's unresponsive. It doesn't respond to keystrokes--including the Magic SysRq sequences, assuming I've converted them properly to my keyboard configuration. Sometimes it appears that the mouse will move, but I can't login via SSH. I'm left to reboot by cycling the power, as I can't find any other way out.

I'm a teacher, and this machine usually lives in the staff room. Sometimes, though, I carry it to my classroom for use in class. The crashes tend to happen more frequently upon moving my computer to my classroom, though it's hard to say why. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with physical movement, but I've only had one crash that did not take place in my classroom--the first.

My machine is a netbook--an HP Mini 110 running Precise. Perhaps also relevant is the fact that lots of programs seem to randomly crash on this machine for no apparent reason, particularly on login.

Any ideas?

Edit: At the suggestion of Jorge Castro, I ran a MemTest86+ check on my RAM for about 2 hours and 15 minutes. It found no errors.

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possible duplicate of What should I do when Ubuntu freezes? –  Jorge Castro Jul 25 '12 at 23:59
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this "feels" like the memory going bad perhaps? –  Jorge Castro Jul 25 '12 at 23:59
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I don't believe this is a duplicate, as that question is overly broad to help in my situation; I already know all the techniques there. But thanks for the memory pointer. I'll run a memory test and see if I learn anything. –  Scott Severance Jul 26 '12 at 1:47
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closed as too localized by Jorge Castro, Mitch, izx, John S Gruber, Jacob Johan Edwards Aug 23 '12 at 19:31

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2 Answers

  • I've most often seen that kind of "video corruption" crash when the system GPU is either overheating and/or being run out of bounds (read: overclocked/overvolted).

  • The Intel GMA950 graphics on your netbook have excellent driver support, so I'd suspect the heatsink/paste on the graphics chip inside the laptop may have gotten loose/dried up/etc.

  • I'd try running on an older Ubuntu LiveCD or Windows (if possible) for a few hours, and if the crashes keep happening, either open the netbook up and look around the GPU, or take it in to someone who can.

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Your hunch seems plausible. Lately I've had my machine running nearly 24/7 while it's been busy processing long tasks. Also, the weather has been quite hot. It's possible that it's overheated and damaged something. Note, though, that the actual crashes themselves don't seem to be correlated to temperature, although damage from overheating could certainly be present. –  Scott Severance Jul 27 '12 at 3:34
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up vote 1 down vote accepted

After a period of time with no crashes, I got another crash today and made an interesting observation.

Today, as with every other crash I can recall, I was holding my computer one-handed, in my left hand (I'm left-handed). Today's crash occurred precisely as I was changing the direction of movement, resulting in greater downward G-forces which applied increased pressure to the bottom of the case where my fingers were supporting the computer.

When I looked underneath the computer to find the pressure point, I noticed that my fingers were on the RAM access cover. Considering Jorge Castro's suggestion of bad memory, combined with the fact that I have 2GB installed despite HP's claim that 1GB is the maximum, and the fact that there was physical pressure on the RAM cover, and likely on the RAM itself, I think I've found the culprit.

I can't investigate any further until I take my machine to work on Monday, since all my tools are there, but this seems to me to be quite a reasonable explanation. As of now, I consider this question answered, though practical suggestions are certainly welcome. For now, I'll be handling my machine differently from now on to avoid pushing on the RAM.

Update

I've now tested this theory. I booted into Memtest to avoid crash problems and isolate the cause, and I found that by applying pressure to the RAM door I can reliably reproduce this crash.

I haven't found a way to strengthen the door, or if replacing the RAM would do the trick. My current workaround is to handle my laptop with care.

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