Computer Glitch! Whodunnit?

As I wrote before, my experience with my Toshiba Satellite P35 has not been a pleasant one. It has spent more time away from me and in the possession of repair personnel than any other computer I have owned. After the last repair, it seems to work, mostly. But not quite right. Once I got it loaded up with all of the software I use regularly, I discovered that it hangs, crashes, or turns itself off periodically. The most frequent thing it does that is bad is to just hang, meaning that it no longer responds to keyboard or mouse input of any sort, not even Ctrl-Alt-Del, and the screen does not change. Earlier today, I noticed that it just turned itself off. Any open, unsaved work is lost. I’ve tried to figure out what makes it do that. So far, I have found that (1) it never misbehaves while running Linux, (2) it is always running Microsoft Windows XP when it crashes or freezes, (3) the most reliable ways to make it freeze are to attempt a backup of all of drive C: with Microsoft Windows backup or to try to scan all of drive C: for viruses using Norton Antivirus. However, backing up all of drive C: with Acronis TrueImage Home does not cause a crash, but does cause an error message about an unreadable sector, in spite of the fact that Toshiba just replaced the hard drive on this computer. An almost identical set of software runs fine on a Dell notebook computer without ever locking up or crashing. From that, I conclude:

  1. This could be a manifestation of creeping hard drive errors affecting the Windows Partition but not the Linux partition, even though Microsoft Windows is supposed to handle errors in NTFS partitions more gracefully.
  2. This could be a manifestation of other intermittent hardware problems that Linux silently recovers from but which crashes Microsoft Windows.
  3. Some software that I installed (intentionally or otherwise) that is different on the Toshiba than on the Dell may be causing the problem. There isn’t much that is different between the two systems. The most notable differences are the Anti-Virus programs (McAfee on the Dell and Norton AntiVirus on the Toshiba) and the vendor-unique programs and drivers provided by their respective manufacturers.
  4. I really would like a new Dell computer to run Windows, and an Apple computer to run Mac OS X 20.4 or better. And I’d like this one to start working again, or at least keep working reliably under Linux.
  5. I wish I could switch more fully to Linux… but I develop software that must run under Windows XP and rely on some specialized software that runs only under Windows. I dual-boot between Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux, now, but to really phase in more use of Linux without losing too much time rebooting, it would be good to have two systems running at the same time, one of which was always running Linux. Then I could easily do the “normal” stuff that Linux does well, like email, web surfing, writing documents, etc., at the same time as I developed software to run under Windows XP.

I could call Toshiba technical support again, but (1) my warranty has expired, and (2) the first thing they will probably ask me to do is to use the “recovery” disk to blast my system back to as-shipped state and see if the problem goes away. I have an aversion to doing that, of course, given how long it takes to reinstall all of the software and restore the data.