It started about six months ago: when I plugged in an external monitor, the screen would go blank, forcing me to reset the screen. Later, it would not only go blank, but actually crash the computer; if I want to use an external screen I now need to reboot with the screen attached2. There's also been occasional graphics glitches - disappearing lines, garbled text and the like. Some software bug, I thought, and perhaps some electrical problem with the external monitor connector.
But about two weeks ago the screen started to freeze randomly, once or twice a day. The static screen image is visible, but frozen. Sometimes the mouse pointer will still move. Sometimes the screen is completely frozen. A few times I've gotten an immediate reset and reboot. There is nothing at all in the log; as far as the OS and applications are concerned the graphics system is fine. I can log in remotely from another computer and all software is still obviously working and displaying stuff. Restarting X does not help - the screen image is frozen no matter what you do. It seems pretty clear to me now that the graphics hardware on this machine is dying. The machine runs pretty hot, so I guess thermal damage could be the culprit.
This is very inconvenient. While I don't use this machine for simulations, I do use it for just about everything else. Whenever the screen freezes I need to reboot, and lose the last bit of work I've done. Worse, it completely derails my train of thought. The computer desktop is my short-term memory, with all the open documents reminding me of what I'm doing. After a reboot it takes a long while to get back up to speed again, and some stuff, like writing blog posts, I may completely forget about for days. I need a new computer.
As it turns out, this is a pretty bad time for the computer to break. I use it a lot for work, but the project doesn't have a budget for big-ticket items at the moment, so I'll have buy the new machine myself. The question is which one. My current machine is small - 10.4" screen, and just under one kilo - with decent memory and ok speed. The battery was rated at 7.5 hours, which was about five hours in practice when new (it's down to 3.5h or so now). I'd like to keep the low weight and good battery life, but this time go for a wide-screen model. That would give a bit of much-needed extra screen space without making the computer much larger. Whatever I get needs to be compatible with Ubuntu Linux.
I'm inclined to get another Panasonic, since they're rugged and good quality (my problem notwidstanding). Perhaps an N9; it's the wide-screen version of my current machine but it's a fair bit faster, and has as good or better battery life. It'd be a little heavier at 1.26 kg, but not so much that I'd be bothered by it. The Let's Note series are rugged - they handle drops, falls and heavy weights, and the keyboard is water/coffee-proof. It's got good wireless connectivity with Wifi, Wimax and Bluetooth; there's both analog and hdmi video ports, and an SD-card reader.
Someone suggested a Thinkpad X201 as an alternative. It's about the same type as the Panasonic and it'd be a bit cheaper - though not by that much once you configure it similarly. It has a trackpoint in addition to the trackpad, and of course it's black, not painted silver. On the downside, it'd be heavier, have shorter battery life and not be nearly as rugged. I'd also feel better about buying a machine designed and assembled locally here in Osaka rather than get an import brand. And of course, I know that Ubuntu works fine on the Panasonic; I'm not as certain about the Thinkpad.
Whichever I get, I'm getting it soon. It's distracting - exhausting - to mentally look over your shoulder as you work for any signs of the computer freezing up on you. It's scary in a way, to be so reliant on a piece of equipment.
#1 Backspace and Enter I understand, but why 'P'? I have no idea.
#2 Last time this happened when I was giving a short presentation at a project meeting in Tokyo. A good reminder not to be too dependent on your presentation software.