We're a little crazy, about science!

Technology issues…

I’ve quickly come to regret purchasing my new(ish) fancy laptop. I get complements on it because it looks impressive and if it worked correctly it would be very impressive. The problem is that it has been causing me headaches since I bought it. Technically this is the second one, the first one was replaced and the second had the same exact issues. So instead of exchanging it again and going through that whole mess, I decided to crack it open and do the fixing myself.

Awhile ago school-PI reminded me that the fellowship I had been awarded came with a rather large sum for travel and a new laptop (specifically designated for a new laptop). Since the pandemic has limited travel I actually have accrued a large amount of travel funds, a few thousand by my count assuming they don’t go away if unused. Most of the travel funds came from the fellowship, but I was awarded a spot in the future faculty program at my university which came with a thousand dollar travel award (here). Wow that was a long time ago…

Around that time I bought the computer seen above! A somewhat top of the line Alienware m17 R3. That happened last year I believe… let me dig for the post (here). I can’t seem to find the original unboxing post which I talked about how happy I was to have a replacement. My old laptop was a rock and lasted ~8 years so it was a dinosaur in laptop years. All the plastic had dried out, fallen apart, and the whole shell of the laptop was crumbling very rapidly.

All was not great with the new computer and it kept crashing on me. I suspect hard drive failure, but there was also some issues that made me think the ram was bad. Of course all the tests came back clean and nothing explained the crash or the fact that the hard drive ran super hot (even for an m.2 drive, which are notoriously hot). After a lot of back and forth with tech support and after several reassurances that I’m not tech illiterate they agreed the computer was bad, but the parts were not going to be available for awhile so they offered a replacement (see: refurbished) laptop. Which I said fine, since I didn’t trust the repairs would fix the issue anyway.

Well it turns out, either through accident or intentionally, the specs for the replacement laptop were even better than the original. It had a better CPU, an extra hard drive, the high end graphics card, better screen, and individually controlled LED keyboard (the original had zones, which I was fine with spending extra money on individually controlled LED’s seemed silly to me). Considering the price point difference, I was happy with the trade and the computer worked well for the first few weeks… just like the last one.

Since then it’s been a constant battle getting this thing to play nice. The computer would freeze when I put it to sleep or sometimes as I woke it up, so I switched to hibernate. That worked somewhat, but the issues, freezing during hibernating, freezing on booting, just freezing in general. However, this only happened during sleep/hibernating or waking it up.

Another issue was when I would start it, the computer wouldn’t detect any media (as in it couldn’t find the hard drive). Interestingly going into the bios, the computer could find the hard drives, it just couldn’t boot off them for some reason. This issue scared me at first, but the fix was to manually select the boot drive and so I had a semi-fix and I’ve been living for the last few months with the headache that is this computer.

Trying to diagnose something this complex is difficult. When windows crashes, it typically creates a crash dump file letting you know what crashed as best as the computer can (sometimes what crashed and what caused the thing to crash are two different things unfortunately). This issue reliably caused no dump file to be created. Which may mean hard drive issues, or it could mean a million other things so I went to work the past few weeks in my downtime (haha, downtime…) to debug the problem. I reinstalled drivers, reinstalled windows, repartitioned the hard drive, nothing.

I suspect the issue was the hard drive was crap. I’m actually working under the assumption that the stock hard drives dell uses are garbage and that was the cause of my headaches. It would explain why those headaches followed me to this new laptop anyway. So I recently ordered a new hard drive and as of last night I set it up, installed windows, and I’m attempting to piece my computer back together the way I had it prior to the new install.

Since the install the computer has been well behaved. Let me just say quickly, installing this new drive was a monster of a task. I never had so much trouble getting something setup. It needed to be formatted, but I had no space for it in the computer because the drive that was bad was two drives set to raid 0 (which means they work as a single drive). So I had to break the raid, install windows on one of the drives, install the new drive, format it, then install windows, but oh wait the computer won’t find the new drive when I remove the old extra drive I don’t want….

Long story short, I now have an extra drive in the computer that is technically okay, but I am worried it’s garbage. When I remove it (for whatever reason) the computer will not find the new drive and boot properly. I can live with this weird quirk though as long as everything plays nice and the computer functions as it’s supposed to. So far everything is smooth and the real test was unplugging it, then plugging it back in, which seemed to set off the problem. It passed the first attempt so we’ll see.

So today I plan on getting everything installed again and set back up the way I like it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the problem will have resolved itself now and that things will be better. So far the hard drive is running cool, the computer seems to be running cool, everything seems good. Then again, that’s what I said about the new laptop when I first got it.

In short, now it’s just a wait and see kind of thing.


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