Hard drive thrashing makes computer slow
I am trying to resurrect an old Acer Travelmate 2450 with XP Home for use on an upcoming trip. This install is fully patched. On some days, the disk thrashes for several tens of minutes (the drive led stays on, occulting not blinking) and response to keys or mouse-clicks is painfully slow. This makes the computer practically useless.
I use Firefox as my browser. When I run CCleaner, I find (for example) 30 Meg of Firefox temporary internet files but three-times as much junk generated by IE (not used by me). I run Vipre internet suite, scan regularly and it has quarantined one trojan. I just ran Malwarebytes and it found nothing.
Any ideas on what should cause so much thrashing? It was never a problem on my big machine before I switched from XP to Win 7.
increase swap file and installed memory, check for failing memory, autoruns
Initial comments based upon 32 bit Vista and prior Windows versions. Some notes applicable to 64 bit versions follow.
Sometimes the disk thrashing is caused by not enough memory, and/or a swap file (virtual memory) that is too small. If you have a tendency to leave tasks open and switch from one to another (like I do), the usual swap file recommendation to use a swap file 1.5x installed memory never seemed to apply. I find that specifying a user managed swap file just under 4G for a 32 bit OS may help with the thrasing, and increasing installed memory to 4GB (no less than 2GB) will greatly improve performance.
You can use the system monitoring, task manager, or other functions to observe system activity. The easiest to start with might be task manager or the Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor. Look for lots of hard page faults, indicating that the system had to load data that had been swapped to disk. On a quiet system the hard page faults should be very low. If a fully loaded system has high page faulting, especially if the only thing you are doing is looking at the monitor page, then either your swap file or available memory, or both, are too small for the load, and you will probably hear the disk thrashing, i.e. the sound of many head seeks (unless you are using an SSD system disk).
I would recommend running autoruns from the Microsoft Sysinternals.com collection. It will show you everything that runs on startup. Look for add on utilities that have entries that load things that you do not use. Some of the entries may be for "pre loaders" that load code so that the applications starts up quicker - but if the application is not being used, the code is still loaded. You can turn off the preloading for many aftermarket utilities with out affecting the utility performance. One example is ITunes. Others might be for utilities that you tried, and decided not to use, but never uninstalled. Note that there are many services that are required for system operation listed here and I do not recommend tinkering with those.
To set up your swap file (and hopefully as one contiguous file), first set swap file to none, reboot, defrag, set swap file parms for user managed swap file to just under 4GB, reboot, and see if that helps. A system managed swap file allocates and frees disk space as necessary, leading to sluggish performance and more disk fragmentation.
If you have less than 4GB installed, see if you can increase memory to 4GB. There are plenty of deals available on the internet.
You may have a failing memory module. I suspected one at one time as the system sometimes stalled for unknown reasons, but none of the memory diagnostics found anything, then one day I enabled the full post in the BIOS boot and lo and behold, POST found failing memory in one of the original OEM modules. I pulled that associated module and no more problems for a while, before the other original OEM memory failed. Pulled that one bringing me down to 2GB of aftermarker memory, making the system run sluggish. Got 2 GB more memory installed (cheaper on the net) and things were back to normal. Note that after pulling defective memory I decided that I might not want to trust the system files so I saved current files and went back almost a year in my system backups to restore something that hopefully was before the memory defects, copied newer user files from the current backup copy and installed updates, and backed up again.
With regards to 64 bit Windows, you are not limited to 4 GB, so a larger swap file and additional memory might speed things up for those that tend to leave various windows open. Again, if pages are hard faulting, increase physical memory.