I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.
I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.
Today, with practically no warning, my Inspiron 8600 laptop started erratically blinking its display, then showed extensive video corruption (lines, bars, static), and then hung. Rebooting resulted in some very pretty but not very soothing "plasma patterns", although all other indicators (hard drive activity, keyboard lights) indicated that everything was working; for some definition of working.
I left the machine turned off for a bit, started it up (finally getting a real display), and started a memory testing appliaction (memtest86). Memory tested fine for one complete pass of all tests, but again video corruption was evident, with missing or misdisplayed characters.
Looks like a video card issue to me. I take apart the laptop, pop out the memory card, and reseat it. Fired up the machine again; no joy.
A bit of hunting around revealed that a replacement GeForce Fx5650 mobile card from Dell costs $457.50 AUD (incl GST), and comes with a 2-3 week delivery time. Ouch. An ATI Raedon 9600 replacement is only $309.10 AUD (incl GST), and also comes with a 2-3 week delivery time. Calls to other suppliers reveals that nobody keeps these things in stock, since they're so rarely needed.
I've managed to return some stability to the machine (disabling all hardware acceleration, etc), ad I'm conducting a full backup. All the important stuff should be in CVS and distributed across other machines anyway, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.
These sorts of problems are a pain at the best of times, but the timing now is particuarly bad since I have a course that I'm teaching next week, and this laptop is my main teaching machine. I've sorted a few contingency plans, but I hope that I won't have to use them.
I'm really hoping this problem is just a temporary glitch (solar flares), or failing that a broken fan on the graphics card.
I have learnt one thing from the whole experience. When you suspect a problem in your rare and expensive graphics card, having your screen unexpectedly blank can cause sheer terror until you remember the screen-saver is active.