Computer crashing at random points during Linux installation

Q I have a Compaq Deskpro 650MHz with 128MB RAM and a 10GB hard disk. I am running Mandrake 10.0 on it, which is quite out of date, so I have been trying to upgrade to - or install from scratch - Mandriva 2007. The computer seems to crash every time mostly during install. Sometimes I can install but when I try to boot the system, everything locks up too. I get a lot of text on the screen that makes me think that it's something with the kernel. I have tried other distros; Fedora, Ubuntu, Slackware and Gentoo, they all have the same problem. Is there a way to install newer distros (even Mandrake 10.1 doesn't work) and make them work?

A The fact that you experience problems with various distros, and they don't always appear at the same point, indicates that this may be a hardware problem. The most common of these are faulty memory, overheating and a substandard PSU. Before you try any of these, I recommend you try running the installers in text mode. The graphical installers require a lot of memory, far more than it needs to run the installed distro, because they load everything into a huge ramdisk so it is still available when you change CDs. A text mode install reduces the memory requirements substantially.

If that fails, you need to check for the previously mentioned problems. Testing memory is easy, most distro install discs include memtest as an option on the boot menu. Select this and let is run for as long as possible. You need to let it make at least two passes, running overnight is best. Overheating can be caused by failing fans or a build up of crud (sorry to use such a technical term here) in the fans, heat sinks or vents. Use one of those cans of compressed air to blow everything clear. A failing power supply can also cause random reboots and lockups, but the only way to test it is to try a replacement.

If none of that works, make a note of the last dozen or so lines of text on the screen when it fails. While some of these messages come from the kernel, many are from the various programs that are run when a system boots. Knowing the content of these messages will help to pinpoint the problem. If the messages are not consistent, you almost certainly have a hardware fault.

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