Feeds

Ubuntu laptop clan trapped in hard drive hell

OS 'not to blame' for maniacal disks

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

The Ubuntu operating system has been charged with crimes against hard drives. A number of users have complained this week about the OS (7.04/7.10) forcing drives to spin up and down at an unnatural rate due to some very aggressive power management features. According to Ubuntu wizards, however, this is a firmware/BIOS issue and not the OS's fault.

A couple of user forums have started fill up with people commenting about their systems going through an unusual number of load cycles while under battery power. This excessive throttling of the hard drive could lead to quicker than expected hardware failures.

One user complains, "When switching to battery power, /etc/acpi/power.sh issues the command hdparm -B 1 to all block devices. This leads to extremely frequent load cycles. For example, my new thinkpad has already done well over 7000 load cycles -- in only 100 hours.

"That's at least one unloading per minute. Googling for "load unload cycles notebook OR laptop" shows that most laptop drives handle up to 600,000 such cycles."

This best explanation we've found of the hard drive mechanics at play comes from Linux-Hero.

The drive reported has a life span of 600,000 load/unload cycles before the precisely machined tolerances in the drive begin to deteriorate. Somewhere along the line, the drives are being asked to spin down very frequently. These are factors controlled by a power management utility within the drive called Advanced Power Management, or apm, and are dictated by Ubuntu after boot-up. The problem is simply that the drives are spinning up and down too often, and the sliders are being forced to roll on and off the ramp where they’re stored when in off use, causing wear and tear on the slider assembly (not to mention the motor spinning the drive).

But the Ubuntu nation contends that it's the laptop makers who are after aggressive power management that are causing the problems.

One blogger writes that the issues are OS independent. "These aggressive power management settings are set by your BIOS or harddrive firmware. Windows and/or Mac OS X might be overriding these settings which might make Ubuntu look bad if Ubuntu doesn’t override these settings."

Meanwhile, an Ubuntu developer explains that the OS creators have tried to avoid messing with the BIOS and firmware setting provided by hardware makers. So, this hands off approach can lead to major hard drive wear and tear, but that's what the laptop vendors intended.

According to Linux-Hero, you can fix the problem by running hdparm -B 255 /dev/sda. This will shut down the advanced power management features of your hard drive. A number of users have confirmed that this workaround has helped them as well. (Of course, your hard drive my eventually catch on fire, which would also lessen its lifespan.)

It looks like Hitachi, IBM/Lenovo and Dell units are all mentioned as potential culprits. And, if you hear you hard drive clicking, you're almost certainly suffering from this condition.

Good luck. ®

Register hack Ashlee Vance has just pumped out a new book that's a guide to Silicon Valley. The book starts with the electronics pioneers present in the Bay Area in the early 20th century and marches up to today's heavies. Want to know where Gordon Moore eats Chinese food, how unions affected the rise of microprocessors or how Fairchild Semiconductor got its start? This is the book for you - available at Amazon US here or in the UK here.

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
So, Apple won't sell cheap kit? Prepare the iOS garden wall WRECKING BALL
It can throw the low cost race if it looks to the cloud
Samsung Gear S: Quick, LAUNCH IT – before Apple straps on iWatch
Full specs for wrist-mounted device here ... but who'll buy it?
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Now that's FIRE WIRE: HP recalls 6 MILLION burn-risk laptop cables
Right in the middle of Burning Mains Man week
HUGE iPAD? Maybe. HUGE ADVERTS? That's for SURE
Noo! Hand not big enough! Don't look at meee!
AMD unveils 'single purpose' graphics card for PC gamers and NO ONE else
Chip maker claims the Radeon R9 285 is 'best in its class'
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.