MCR's laptop death

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Michael's dead laptop story

This is a personal story about my laptop.

I received my T42 2373 model laptop in August 2004. I needed a replacement laptop somewhat urgently after a Toshiba Satellite that I had used since 2000 toasted its north bridge while at H2K2. As such, there were some details that I didn't worry about, such as the brand (or presence) of the Atheros 802.11abg adapter in the unit. I am not a fan of devices that require binary-only HALs, and I don't buy 90% of the FUD coming from the wireless makers about having to comply with regulations --- they could have found a smarter way to do this.

But, changing or omitting the adapter would have required some kind of custom system build vs getting a unit shipped to me from stock, and I was in a rush. (Still took three weeks... vs 9 weeks!)

I have a CableTron Systems PRISM 2 802.11b adapter that I've used in three laptops that I bought at an IETF meeting back in 1998 or so. It has served me well, and frankly, there is never any mystery about whether or not I meant to use the wireless: if it is plugged in then I want to use it. If I remove it, try the wires. (ifplugd does all of that for me)

In October 2005, I had reached a stable point in my kernel use (I do kernel development), so I figured I'd try the madwifi driver. It installed relatively easily, and seemed to work just fine. While I work at home most days, I tend to be out on Friday's, and when I return home on Friday, my laptop goes on the kitchen table for the weekend, descending back to my office on Monday morning. That way, any work that I happen to do on the weekend is in the company of my wife and child.

That weekend, I got the wireless working on Friday night and I used the laptop a bunch over the weekend. On monday, I sat down to pack the laptop up so that I could travel to a client's site. Strangely, my irc windows were disconnected, and my remote Xterms had disappeared. Hmm. What's with my network? Did my wireless router crash? Well. I had to go so I typed 'poweroff' and packed it up.

When I got to the client site, I attempted to turn the laptop on. It didn't. The CPU fan made noise. That was all. I tried again. Same thing. I pulled batteries and power cords, and let it sit, thinking it needed a full powerfail. Nothing. I then got some tools and opened it up. (This client builds custom ppc405 based linux platforms... lots of tools). Nothing obviously wrong. I hadn't before taken the system completely apart. I did notice that the wifi is right under the mouse pad, and right about the north bridge.

I went home. I used the wife's desktop to reach, and found a service place only blocks from my house. They were closed until after lunch. I took my wife and kid out to lunch and tried not to swear too much. (I was travelling that Friday!)

The system got repaired no questions asked: they replaced the system board and the keyboard. The new keyboard didn't quite feel the same. (Still doesn't). I pulled the hard disk out to plug into another server case while I waited for the repair. (I did the same thing when the Toshiba died, and had all of the right connectors/adapters already). The disk was dead. I bought a new disk (I have yet to RMA the dead disk) and re-installed and restored from backups, and was functionaly by mid-afternoon. I got the T42 back on Wednesday afternoon, and inserted the new disk, and all was well.

Well, almost. I noticed a week later that my 802.11abg card was dead.

In telling this story to someone (I don't recall who now), I was informed that some versions of the madwifi driver possibly run the Atheros 802.11abg too hot, and this can toast the north bridge. I don't know. It sounds plausible to me. North bridge goes... so does power regulation. Could that take out the hard disk too? Maybe. Seems unlikely. Maybe I toasted it plugging it in, but that also seems unlikely.

So, I'm leaving this note on the wiki. Maybe there are others with this experience. I hope to RMA my disk and 802.11abg this month... 6 months later.

Michael's web page