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Problem booting Mint - probably messed up root files

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I did solve the problem, but I don't fully understand what went wrong. Twice in the last year this has occurred, I think after updates. Choosing a different kernel didn't solve the problem.

The problem: A few oddities were showing up, like email could come in, but not be sent. A reboot led to a black page with a few choices, and that's when I found out a different kernel made no difference. There were also many, many words - enough to bring on depression.

The solution: Buried somewhere in the morass of verbiage was a hint that I might file check the root partition. So I typed fsck /dev/sda5. And then I agreed 'yes go ahead' about 20 to 25 times. And it rebooted nicely.

My question: Since this has happened twice within the last year, is it possible that this isn't just a case of software during the updates getting confused and disoriented, and that it could be a hardware problem or something else?

This is the best desktop in the house by the way, and it runs only Mint. And a more important thing is that it's my wife's computer, so there is no room for error.

It sounds like a hardware issue, possibly an intermittent hard drive issue. I doubt very much it's a software issue unless you've upgraded the same distro for decades. Modern filesystem formats don't need to be fsck'ed. A suggestion to do so is a good sign it's a hardware problem.

Also, have you tested your RAM? A bad RAM stick can cause all kinds of problems including disk corruption. Disk corruption or bad memory could be the cause of those issues and others. A LOT of people have bad RAM and have no idea because a few bad memory cells (each chip has millions or billions) that aren't accessed won't cause problems. Then they are, and presto! Problems. Your distro might have a memory test option when you boot up. But if not, you can make a boot disk with memcheck; I think it's called Memcheck86. There's a paid version and a free one with similar names. I think you know which one you want. It can take a while depending on the age of the computer and how much RAM you have. If it finds errors, you'll need to find out which stick is causing the issue by process of elimination. Say you have 4 sticks and an error shows up. Remove two of the sticks. Run again. If it shows up again, remove one of those sticks.

Even if it turns out to be something else, everything you do on your computer is related to RAM and if you care (or your wife cares) about not having personal files corrupted, memory should be checked anyway.

"Modern filesystem formats don't need to be fsck'ed." Didn't know that.

The fsck solved the problem in both cases about 10 months apart. If the problem is a faulty memory stick (I'm understanding this from what you have written)  the flawed ram stick creates some errors on the /root system, and fsck is capable of sorting this out, even though modern file systems don't need to be fsck'd.

Have I got this correct? (So it's either ram or ssd.)

Sounds like the identical problem I had with my Mint 19.1, this past Spring.  I also was able to get Mint to boot again by running the fsck command but the problem came back again fairly quickly, numerous times.

I installed Mint 20.1 and never had the problem happen again.

At the moment I'm running Mint 20.2.


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