Help, my Thinkpad's on life support!
October 6, 2011 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Completely stumped: I can't boot *any* OS from my laptop's hard drive. What am I doing wrong?

Specs: Thinkpad X60s (L2400) with external Asus DVD-R drive and upgraded hard drive (320gb Hitachi)/RAM (1.5gb over two modules).

Ran MemTest86+ and found a dying module, so I swapped that out. Hard drive checks out in two separate tests and wiped completely between installs to adjust tables. BIOS flashed with most recent update.

Windows 7: Installation begins normally, but fails halfway through after the first reboot. Consistently freezes at the "Starting Windows" screen, with a tiny red pixel lit where the logo should be.

OS X: Followed a number of guides (including ones from and tonymacx86) to boot and install a retail copy of 10.6. This was slightly more successful: At one point, I managed a stable boot but with significant slowdown and nonfunctional networking and USB. Wiped that and have since been unable to replicate.

Ubuntu 11.04: One attempt so far. Live CD and installation run without issue. First several boots are fine, but software manager went blank in the middle of installing fonts. Restarted my machine and can no longer get in, safe mode or otherwise.

I'm convinced that there's something simple here I missed that can be repaired, but I have yet to find it after a week of trying. Any ideas?
posted by pinsomniac to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
I would ask if you have tried fiddling with compatibility settings in your bios, except you say this:

First several boots are fine, but software manager went blank in the middle of installing fonts. Restarted my machine and can no longer get in, safe mode or otherwise.

I think you have dodgy hardware.
posted by devnull at 6:13 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just curious, when you did your memtesting, did you physically change the modules around and test again to make sure it wasn't a bad ram slot? It kinda sounds like the motherboard right now to me.
posted by Edogy at 6:23 AM on October 6, 2011

Response by poster: Edogy: Can't say I did, but I assumed that was ruled out when I tested the replacement in the same slot. I did notice some fickleness in how it responds to module arrangement, but no outright failures.

devnull: I'm leaning hardware as well, but I'm hoping it's something replaceable. Can't afford a new laptop at the moment.
posted by pinsomniac at 6:35 AM on October 6, 2011

Best answer: If blowing out the fans doesn't do the trick for you (ruling out heat problems) then from the sound of it you'll need to replace the motherboard. Fortunately, on Thinkpads that's not an impossible task.
posted by mhoye at 6:39 AM on October 6, 2011

How long did you let memtest run after replacing the module? I usually want to let it go for at least 4 complete cycles...
posted by Jinkeez at 6:48 AM on October 6, 2011

That tiny red pixel is likely just a dead pixel. Not too big of a deal unless it gets in the way. Many LCDs have a threshold of dead pixels before the manufacturer deems it defective (I think at some point it was 15 or more for some companies).

I tend to agree with others however that this looks like a hardware problem. You could try flashing your BIOS, but I think this is more likely a motherboard capacitor, cpu, or intermittent memory issue. You could try bootable hardware testing CDs like this one. The X60 was originally released around 2006, so it might be simply showing signs of its age (being that most PCs and Laptops start to fail after 5 years).
posted by samsara at 6:50 AM on October 6, 2011

I'd follow Edogy's advice about testing the RAM slot again. I've had inconsistent and puzzling results from memtest occasionally.

A somewhat tedious--but inexpensive--way to rule out your HDD would be to boot exclusively from a live CD for a while and save your work to a USB drive. If the problem persists, it's likely a motherboard issue. If you consistently get a stable environment from a live CD, then the HDD would seem to be the culprit.
posted by jingzuo at 6:50 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

(I should also add that 2006 is right in the middle of the "bad capacitor era" which for me started in 2004 and didn't seem to die down until 2008 or so. It was definitely a very RMA heavy period of my career...and really diminished my views of HP in particular by their reluctance to recall systems that had known defects. Dell, IBM, and Gateway were all equally affected however)
posted by samsara at 6:58 AM on October 6, 2011

Are you using a real copy of Windows? You say you're installing a "retail" copy, but in my experience people don't usually use the word "retail" in common parlance unless they downloaded it off a torrent site.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:31 AM on October 6, 2011

Just for the hell of it, try Ubuntu 10.10.

My Thinkpad x61 did similar horrible things when I tried to install Ubuntu 11.04. It had previously run 10.10 just fine. I wish I could tell you how I solved the problem, but it's still sitting "bricked" in a box until I muster the will to spend a few more hours fucking around with it.

Also- Try all of this plugged into mains with the battery removed. My Thinkpad developed a battery problem that caused erratic crashes. Replacing the battery (or removing it) solved this.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:59 AM on October 6, 2011

Half a decade or so ago I had a major problem with a laptop running Windows XP when an IT guy decided to try out a memory module he knew was faulty on me "just to be sure". It seemed to screw up a bunch of the NTUSER.DAT type stuff and other files that would have been cached in memory, IIRC, and also occasionally completely interfered with booting. So my vote is also for exploring the possibility of an intermittent hardware problem.
posted by XMLicious at 8:35 AM on October 6, 2011

IIRC there's a problem with suspend and the Thinkpad X60 series with Ubuntu 11.04

Works fine in 10.10 & with a more recent kernel, but the shipping kernel version hangs on suspend.
posted by pharm at 10:01 AM on October 6, 2011

Unplug all USB devices, if you haven't already.

If you have, well, trying booting from a bootable USB stick, perhaps to run Hiren's Boot CD contents on your thinkpad.

good luck!
posted by Sunburnt at 4:04 PM on October 6, 2011

i also vote motherboard. my machine overheated, so i moved it to a nice big case. after i swapped out the hdd and ram, i still had random freezes. after mobo swap, life is good.
posted by maulik at 4:31 PM on October 6, 2011

Response by poster: Civil_Disobedient: Fair question, but yes. "Retail" was actually used in reference to OS X, where my understanding is that there exists upgrade/recovery media that lack the driver set for a successful x86 install.

Not sure why I didn't think of it, but I removed the battery. Didn't make a difference, unfortunately. Haven't had a chance to throughly test the RAM slots, but in the process of opening up the chassis, I noticed this: Pic 1 / Pic 2.

I'll preface this with the fact that I did spill juice on my keyboard a few years ago, which required a replacement (as it was effectively candied). I can't tell whether this is simply debris from that incident or something more problematic.

Anything I should look at before spraying it with air and closing it back up?
posted by pinsomniac at 5:50 PM on October 6, 2011

Response by poster: I'm not yet willing to declare victory, but I'm currently typing this from the machine in question. That's a good sign. Will monitor stability for the immediate future.

What made the difference? I was leaning towards cleaning the fans, but temperatures seem in line with where they were before it crashed (which, admittedly, was quite high - idling in the mid 60-70's). I also manipulated the RAM modules again, but I switched the arrangement back to how it used to be between boots without any issue.

The best that I can come up with was that a tiny cracked piece of the chassis fell out of the motherboard's surface when I opened it up. I'm not clear why that would make a difference (there's a plastic surface on top of the board), but I can't think of what else changed.
posted by pinsomniac at 1:00 AM on October 7, 2011

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