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Linux Works Even When Your PC is Committing Suicide

Remote Networking Saves the Day

  • April 15, 2009
  • By Carla Schroder
My monitor gave up the ghost in the middle of the workday, naturally when I had deadlines and a half-dozens things to do right now. It turned out to be a fried video card, and I took the long way to figure it out, but I was able to keep working until I had time to troubleshoot and fix it, thanks to Linux's easy remote networking.

I came back from a break to find it in a hard lockup. Well OK, this is inconvenient, but at least with Linux a hard crash usually doesn't have bad side effects like mangled system files, unlike a certain other inexplicably popular but frail operating system.

Ctrl+Alt+Delete didn't work, so I hit the power button. When it came back up it looked like this:

It is true that my vision isn't getting any better with age, but it's not that bad. So I says to myself oh dear, I have a problem. I couldn't take time out of work to deal with it, so I moved to another computer-- my house is loaded with computers, as it should be-- and used ssh to log into the broken computer:

$ ssh -Y xena

This accomplished two things. Since I was able to log in and cruise the filesystem, it told me that whatever was broken was probably limited to the video subsystem, and the -Y switch let me use the remote PC as a graphical terminal to the sick computer. So I had easy access to all of my documents and email the easy way.

Pretty Colors! But Unhealthy

My video card is an EVGA Nvidia GeForce 7600, and I have a nice 22" Viewsonic LCD monitor. I would have cried if the monitor had failed because it is only a couple of years old, and I love it. It is crisp and easy to read, it has nice colors, and it has real contrast, brightness, and color controls, instead of those incredibly moronic profile presets that newer monitors have, like "Text" and "Images" and so on. I hate those and they must die.

I did take the time to swap out the digital video cable and try the analog cable. That made no difference, and a few minutes later the display was even worse:

Troubleshooting

My troubleshooting was rather hasty and disorganized, though it did finally lead to a solution. What can I say, there are good days and there are twitterpated days. As so many readers of my blog suggested, the first thing I should have done was boot up a live Linux CD. That is a fast way to determine if the problem is hardware or software; if the live CD boots normally then the hardware is OK. It would have saved me some time.

But no, I had to take the long way. After work I spent some quality time with it. I connected the monitor to a different PC and it worked fine. OK, so it's not the monitor. I put it back and rebooted one more time hoping it would magically heal itself, when something I should have noticed right away got my attention: the boot screen was just as mangled as when Kubuntu came up. So duh, that means the video card is at fault because no drivers are loaded yet, and I already know the monitor is fine.

So I fetched my trusty rechargeable 14.4-volt Ryobi flashlight and prepared for surgery. That is my second-favorite flashlight in the whole world. It is bright and it stands up, and it is perfect for illuminating computer innards. I poked around, trying to look wise even though I had only the dogs for company, and I noticed the case fan was not spinning. Oops. The Nvidia card faces downwards, so I reached underneath to feel its fan with my finger. Oops again. Both fans use the same power connector, so apparently it was dead. Tried a different power lead, and they fired right up. (Individual power leads can fail, though in my experience it's rare.)

I gave it some time to cool and connected the monitor again. Nope, Nvidia is fried.

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