Bad Memory Considered Harmful

I’ve just spent several days (on and off) trying to get an old PIII box up and running as a file server. Now that 250G drives are down to about $80, there’s no reason anyone should be concerned about disk space anymore. Anyway, the computer kept locking (hard) whenever I tried to mkfs the disk, regardless of the filesystem.

I tried several different drives; different controllers; moving the drives around to different positions (master/slave); different kernels; different BIOS settings; and some other things—but every time the machine just locked on “Writing inode table…”

So, as a final straw, I decided to drop down to 128M RAM from 384M. Then it worked fine. Up to 256M—still fine. 384M—hard crash.

Problem solved.

I hate this kind of thing, though. It’s painful manipulating the insides of these old boxes, and there’s precious little feedback about what’s going wrong. Maybe a more wizened hacker than I would have thought to check the memory first, but everything else appeared to be working fine which isn’t usually the case when you’ve got bad memory.

An old friend of mine called this kind of experience “tuition.” It costs a lot, but in the end you learn your lesson.