Feeds

Ubuntu laptop clan trapped in hard drive hell

OS 'not to blame' for maniacal disks

Security for virtualized datacentres

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.

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
Apple iPhone 6: Missing sapphire glass screen FAIL explained
They just cannae do it in time, says analyst
Slap my Imp up: Bullfrog's Dungeon Keeper
Monsters need to earn a living too
Oh noes, fanbois! iPhone 6 Plus shipments 'DELAYED' in the UK
Is EMBIGGENED Apple mobile REALLY that popular?
Apple's big bang: iPhone 6, ANOTHER iPhone 6 Plus and WATCH OUT
Let's >sigh< see what Cupertino has been up to for the past year
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
The Apple Watch and CROTCH RUBBING. How are they related?
Plus: 'NostrilTime' wristjob vid action
Apple's SNEAKY plan: COPY ANDROID. Hello iPhone 6, Watch
Sizes, prices and all – but not for the wrist-o-puter
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.