Sometimes the old ways are best

So after HP finally replaced the lemon laptop that I’d gotten this spring with a brand spanking new touchscreen laptop, I waited until I had a few completely open days to do a dual-boot install of ubuntu on it, just in case there might be a few problems.

Four dozen open tabs later…

Apparently when a machine boots from USB but can’t see the internal hard drive, it’s either

  • a power-supply problem
  • a busted SATA cable
  • a protocol disagreement in the BIOS
  • a bug in the BIOS
  • an error in the table that supplies the kernel with addresses for registers in the IOMMU
  • the phase of the moon.

Of the non-hardware problems, for each one there’s a different set of GRUB boot parameters that some people have found leads to a successful boot and installation. (And the hardware problems seemed unlikely — even for HP — because the machine was running Windows 10 like a champ. And I even started to like Windows 10.)  Some of the fixes require dumping a bunch of register tables and then poring through datasheets, so that was out for me (especially because once — just once — after I updated the BIOS the internal hard disk actually appeared for an hour or so).

So I asked around at our co-working space, and another guy had a desperate need for a cheap Win10 laptop.  I cannot tell you what a weight lifted from my shoulders as I saw the last of the computer.

And I went down the road to the used-computer store. There was a business-class laptop from 2012 loaded with Windows 7. Coincidentally for the same price my colleague had paid for the replacement of the spawn of hell. I plugged my USB drive with the ubuntu installer on it into the side of the older machine and turned it on. Hit ESC to choose the boot device. It just did.

And then when I got it home, the installation. just. worked. in the partition that I’d carved out by telling windows to shrink the C: drive. Now I’m loading software on it and it still just works. I could have done this six months ago and gotten ever so much more work done. And just in case you wanted a kicker: the new/old machine benchmarks about 10 percent faster than the new/new one I ditched.

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