vertner.net

The Dell Lives!

WHAT IS DEAD MAY NEVER DIE!WHAT IS DEAD MAY NEVER DIE!

So up until very recently, this site (among other things) lived its humble life on my mighty 2007 Dell XPS M1530. To deal with some issues from my ISP and occasional downtime problems, I happily moved to Digital Ocean for web hosting, but I still was using my Dell for other projects. My timing was perfect because within a month of migrating, the hard drive took a dive.

Hard Disk Diagnosis

It was admittedly trickier than I would have liked to determine that my hard drive was fried. I normally only SSH into the Dell, so there’s little feedback until something is catastrophically wrong. Even then, I generally presume first that it’s some kind of network issue. When I finally attempted to log in directly to the laptop, I couldn’t get any response. The modern-day floppy disk.The modern-day floppy disk. NOOOOOOOOOOO!!! No panicking, though. I rebooted, amusedly greeted the litany of weird errors that showed up and watched as the boot consistently failed. Since I couldn’t get into the native operating system, I couldn’t run any other diagnostic software. I was left with my hunch: hard drive. Of all parts, the old drive has moving parts, gets hot, and probably wasn’t built with the most fail-proof parts.

Good thing I always keep a bag of spare USB drives and SD cards. Don’t judge me, they’re cheap and endlessly handy for things like this. I broke them out and ran the following OS X script I modified awhile ago for building bootable Linux drives:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
#!/bin/bash
#Builds a bootable USB Thumbdrive in OS X

diskutil list

read -p "Enter the name of the target USB stick (like disk1): " usbStick

if mount|grep "/dev/$usbStick"
then
    read -p "Are you sure USB Stick $usbStick is the good target? (y/n): " r

    if [ $r="y" ]
    then
        read -p "ISO file (with path and without the extension): " iso

        if [ -f "$iso.iso" ]
        then
            hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o "$iso.img" "$iso.iso"
            diskutil unmountDisk /dev/$usbStick
            sudo dd if="$iso.img.dmg" of="/dev/r$usbStick" bs=1m
            diskutil eject /dev/$usbStick
            echo "Bootable USB stick created!"
         else
             echo "The ISO does not exist"
         fi
     fi

else
    echo "The USB flash drive you have chosen does not exist."
fi

After it finished writing, I slapped that little guy into the Dell and booted up. Once I was safely in a clean-running copy of Linux, I could see that all of the other hardware was working great but the disk was pretty shot. It wouldn’t mount, format, or even start spinning up.

Speedy!Speedy!

The Fix

Fortunately, solid-state drives have been coming down in price and I was able to get a good deal on a 256GB Samsung 850 Pro. Samsung’s Pro was only slightly more expensive but is generally considered to be more reliable in the long term (think the difference between Western Digital’s Blue drives versus their longer-term Black drives).

Fortunately, Dell’s laptops are a lot easier to work on that your typical Macbook. I was easily able to find the four laptop retention screws and pull the old Western Digital hard drive. Two things to note, here: 1) I’m impressed that Dell went with a solid Blue drive rather than the bottom-tier Green drives (which have been notoriously fail-happy) and 2) I’m also impressed that the humble Blue lasted eight years of continuous use, including a several deployments to dusty countries.

The belly of the beast.The belly of the beast.

Transferring the face plate was a snap, but actually seating the drive was a little tricky at first. The Samsung SSD was so much thinner than the Western Digital HDD and the bay to house it that it took a few insertions to get it properly seated. Once the drive was installed, getting Ubuntu Server set back up took only 8 minutes and 36 seconds. This was a far cry from the 20-30 minutes the old drive would normally take. Really, the only thing that slowed it down was downloading all of the package updates.

The offending predecessor takes a step back while its shiny successor steps up. RIP WD.The offending predecessor takes a step back while its shiny successor steps up. RIP WD.

Success!

… aaaaand it’s back up and running perfectly. I quickly set OpenVPN back up (using my previous instructions as a good set of notes and I re-installed Transmission to start seeding open-source software and English Wikipedia data dumps. As a bonus, since I’m still hosting the site on Digital Ocean, I don’t have to ensure that OpenVPN and the site both place nice with secure connections over port 443 any more. Overall, I’m pleased with how quick and easy it was to get the Dell back on its feet. I’m really interested to see just how long I can keep the hardware running. It has been so impressively solid, I can see it giving me at least a few more years of solid service.

Yeah, it’s like that.Yeah, it’s like that.

Comments