I hate flaky systems, Fedora 10 and/or hardware edition

February 9, 2009

I am generally an even, calm person. But there are some things that just absolutely get under my skin and drive me to screaming frustration, and one of them is flaky, unreliable systems. This is especially the case when I can't tell if the problem is hardware, software, or both.

Since I'm writing about this, you might guess that I am dealing with such a thing right now. You would be correct; my office workstation has become really flaky ever since I upgraded it from Fedora 8 to Fedora 10 (about a month ago), with frequent kernel panics and other problems. In a sysadmin's workstation, this is more than frustrating, it's actively dangerous; I've already had the system crash once while I was in the middle of something moderately delicate.

According to the Fedora reply to my bug report, this is almost certainly a hardware problem. I wish I could entirely believe and trust that, but it's hard since the system was completely stable on Fedora 8, with not a crash or problem in sight. And without a good idea of where the problem is, it's hard to go to management with a request for, say, new hardware, since we might be spending money and getting nothing for it.

(This is where it is frustrating that universities are not businesses. In many companies, the cost of my time means that it would long since have made economic sense to just get me a new machine and put the old one in the 'possibly junk' spares pool. But this is not something that universities do, especially in the current budget climate; staff are a sunk cost, while hardware costs real money.)

Unfortunately falling back to Fedora 8 is not a real option at this point; I don't have an alternate OS install on this machine, and while Fedora lets you upgrade a machine, there's no downgrade procedure. I will probably try to wedge the current Fedora 8 kernel into the system and see if I can boot it without everything breaking.

(At a look, the only thing that seems to specifically depend on a recent kernel version is the ATI graphics driver. Unfortunately having working X is somewhat important to me, so I am hoping that it will work in 'nomodeset' mode.)

PS: yes, I have a pre-upgrade backup of my machine, since I'm not crazy. But falling back to it at this stage would take a bunch of work for various reasons, including trying to hunt down various things that have changed since then.

Comments on this page:

From at 2009-02-15 19:35:56:

Sounds to me like Fedora 10 has different video or BIOS timings affecting it (i.e. the ones in the kernel or X11 module affected the chipset and flipped some bits.) What does memtest (memchk? whatever!) produce except clean results w/o the X11 module?

Put a less testy way, isn't this just the needy beginning of Fedora demanding periodic videocard changes like the other OS? Only, of course you can stick a $5 Matrox 400 in there rather than the next Gl_C-is-my-new-CPU $200-500 videocard.

By cks at 2009-04-06 01:16:51:

I've had the chance to do systematic tests, and as a result of them I don't think that the video card is part of the issue. HardwareMystery summarizes the results.

I think that modern Linux distributions may be starting to sort of require video card updates; my impression is that a lot of the latest graphics stuff is only being added to the drivers for relatively current hardware for various reasons. At the extreme, updates in X server APIs may obsolete drivers for old hardware simply because there's no one around that's interested in updating the drivers.

Written on 09 February 2009.
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