I've been experiencing a problem recently with my Linux laptop, where the display is blacking out during boot. I won't go into the specific details, as I have asked a question about it on Unix & Linux SE here.

The behavior during boot seems rather inconsistent. Sometimes the display blacks out early in the boot process; sometimes it gets to the graphical login window and then blacks out when I log in.

So, what I'm wondering is: in general, does inconsistent behavior of a computer always indicate a hardware issue? My thinking is that seems logical, because code should be static, unless the filesystem is progressively becoming corrupted (which would point to a failure of the hard disk in any case). So, any inconsistent behavior must then point to an underlying hardware issue.

Is that correct? Are there any situations where a software issue could cause inconsistent behavior?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Moab, harrymc, music2myear, Moses, bertieb Jan 16 at 22:53

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No, for a few reasons:

While it's quite simple to step through even some complicated code, when you get to something on the level of a graphics driver it becomes so complicated it's unlikely you're going to see the 'same' environment for the code running each time - this can be due to race conditions occurring at boot time - maybe the graphics card was ready before the OS wanted to write to it, maybe it wasn't. So seemingly 'random' failures can be entirely software caused.

Even if you want to consider it 'hardware', incoming power is something you often can't control to the n'th degree and so is a variable outside of what you may of been considering, yet intermittent incoming power (which may not be as obvious as it sounds) can cause some truly bizarre effects.

Environment can have an effect on your system components, being hot or cold, statically charged all can effect how they function, and may cause intermittent errors. Also effects such as solar flares, while questionable on the likelyhood of it occurring, can cause issues too.

  • 1
    Ok, that's interesting. So these bootup race conditions could resolve themselves differently due to changes in the environment? For example, one component taking a bit longer/shorter to 'warm up' due to a change in temperature? Variations in incoming power was something else I hadn't considered, thanks. So, even inconsistent behavior could be a driver issue? – Time4Tea Jan 14 at 18:27
  • Exactly. Many years ago I had issues with KDE on linux crashing, hardlocking the machine entirely. Turned out to be down to a nvidia driver issue. – djsmiley2k Jan 14 at 21:37
  • @Time4Tea, problems aren't necessarily bugs in the code. There are interactions between things that are loaded, things going on in the background, between software and user environment items like themes, even things that are missing that don't cause a problem until the software goes looking for it, etc. There's also software interacting with hardware and conflicts over shared resources. – fixer1234 Jan 15 at 8:17

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