Feeds

Ubuntu laptop clan trapped in hard drive hell

OS 'not to blame' for maniacal disks

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration

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.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Nice computers don’t need to go to the toilet, says Barclays
Bad computers might ask if you are Sarah Connor
4K video on terrestrial TV? Not if the WRC shares frequencies to mobiles
Have your say with Ofcom now, before Freeview becomes Feeview
PEAK LANDFILL: Why tablet gloom is good news for Windows users
Sinofsky's hybrid strategy looks dafter than ever
YES, iPhones ARE getting slower with each new release of iOS
Old hardware doesn't get any faster with new software
You didn't get the MeMO? Asus Pad 7 Android tab is ... not bad
Really, er, stands out among cheapie 7-inchers
Apple winks at parents: C'mon, get your kid a tweaked Macbook Pro
Cheapest models given new processors, more RAM
VMware builds product executables on 50 Mac Minis
And goes to the Genius Bar for support
Leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs tease details of Nokia's next mobes
New screen sizes, dual SIMs, voice over LTE, and more
Microsoft stands on shore as tablet-laden boat sails away
Brit buyers still not falling for Windows' charms
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
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.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?