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  1. #1
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    Angry XP SP3 slows to crawl with no CPU load or disk activity

    Running XP SP3, and starting a month or so ago, out of nowhere the system will suddenly slow to a crawl. It gets so slow, at first I thought the machine had crashed.

    This happens randomly, and when it does, the system doesn't recover. Sometimes it happens shortly after bootup, before I've loaded any apps, other times it will happen after hours of normal operation. The system will reboot when told to, but it may take up to 30 minutes for everything to close and XP to finish its housekeeping.

    The initial bootup is never a problem, and neither is the eventual reboot after the problem happens, which makes me think it's not a hardware failure or heat issue.

    When it happens, there is only a 2-4% CPU load, and little to no disk activity. Everything looks normal, except the machine runs as if it's powered by an 8088 with 128k of memory. The only software that runs properly at that point is Task Manager, for some reason.

    I've run virus scans, rootkit scans, malware scans, and everything comes up clean.

    System is 3 year old motherboard with Intel quad core, 4 gig memory (3 gig seen by XP), boot drive is on-board RAID 10 with four 320 gig drives, ATA CD/DVD burner, nVidia video card. Temperatures are all normal.

    I am a reasonably experienced computer guy (built the system), and have no problem with messing with hardware, but I am stumped.

    Any insights would be appreciated.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator jwitalka's Avatar
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    I assume you are using Task Manager to look at CPU activity. Make sure you check the button at the bottom labeled show processes from all users. You could also download and run Process Explorer for more utilization details.

    Jerry

  3. #3
    5 Star Lounger chowur's Avatar
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    Do you have a power supply tester?Another suggestion would be to replace the battery on the mother board.
    Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einsten

  4. #4
    Bronze Lounger DrWho's Avatar
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    I hate talking to a techie guy, because he's usually way ahead of me, but.......

    It does sound like a hardware problem, rather than a software problem.
    Do all those ridiculously simple things that you think could not possibly be the cause of the problem.

    My list:
    Check for Bad-Caps. Bulging or leaking

    Remove all power from the system, then take out the CMOS battery and check it with a digital VOM.
    ............. It must check out to 3.0vdc or better, or it should be replaced. Even if it checks out GOOD,
    leave it out for about 20 minutes to completely reset the CMOS chip.

    Remove the RAM and check for dirt. If dirty it can actually be washed with denatured alcohol and don't forget to clean up the edge connector, with a rag soaked in alcohol.

    Make sure all fans are running free, with none lagging or sticking. Make sure the CPU heat-sink is clean.

    Re-seat all drive connectors, and power connectors.

    All too many times, I've found the solution to a problem to be the one thing that I thought "oh, that can't be the problem".

    I'll be anxious to hear what you find that actually fixes the problem.

    The Doctor

    PS: Do you have any diagnostics on Bootable CD's that you could run on that PC? Like, maybe Memtest?

    Afterthought 1:
    There is a HD mode that I've not seen in a long time and that was on an IDE drive, where the drive goes into "Crawl Mode" and everything involving the HD like booting up or loading a program just seems to drag on forever. I cloned one of those drives onto a NEW drive one day and it took 12 hours. Slow, YES, but that did get the job done and the new drive ran nice and fast, as I'd hoped it would. Nowhere on the PC does that show up as an error.
    Last edited by DrWho; 2011-09-06 at 09:37.
    Experience is truly the best teacher.

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  5. #5
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    You did do a backup (disk image) just after installing XP SP3 and all the updates, right? I had a similar problem a couple weeks ago and used a disk image to revert to a good state and it fixed whatever it was that was wrong. I noticed the problem started just after installing last months windows update security fixes. Your problem didn't start on the second Wednesday of last month did it?

  6. #6
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    First, make sure you have the installation CD from either Microsoft or the computer manufacturer. If you have the original CDs, proceed. IF the restore is stored on the same hard drive, you need to do the restore from the drive so do not erase it. Having said that...

    Western Digital makes a utility that will write zeros to your entire drive. It takes a little longer to do this, but it will get rid of ghost-like things that seem to linger even after doing a reinstall. I did a repair install once and afterward still had the same problem, so used the Western Digital Data Lifeguard program and wrote zeros to the entire drive and reinstalled everything and the problem went away.

    You can call Microsoft and order the Windows XP SP3 update on a CD or DVD. It is good to have the hard copy of the update because you won't have to download the multi-megabite updates again. Just be sure to run Windows Update even after using the XP SP3 update because there are a lot of new updates since SP 3 was released. Also consider using Firefox for your browser.

    External hard drives are really cheap now, and if you buy one you can use it to copy your My Documents folder and things like pictures to the external drive and also your Address Book, your Contacts, any work you want to save and your e-mails. There are two different places to check for contacts. (1) Click on Start, All Programs, Accessories and then Address Book. Once the Address Book is open, click File then Export, then Address Book (.WAB) and follow the screen prompts. If there is an option during this process to include sub-folders, check it.

    Then.. (2) Open Outlook Express and do basically the same export through Outlook Express. Export the file to your new external hard drive or flash drive and you can copy the contacts to any Windows computer you use, and have a permanent copy of your contacts so you don't have to re type everything if your system crashes or you get a new machine. After dong the reinstall, open the address book and use the import option and all your contacts will be back exactly like they were before the re-installation. You can export it to your desktop and burn it to a cd also.

    You can also save the updated drivers to the external drive and after you get everything working again, use a program like Acronis True Image to make a disk image on the external drive, which can be restored any time you have a problem. Just make sure you save anything you created since the re-installation, including your contacts info to your external drive, or the new info will be lost.

  7. #7
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    If the CPU utilisation is very low and there is no indication of disk activity via the HD led's there are really only two possibilities for the slow behaviour:

    1. The system is waiting for a User Input: but that is not the case in this instance, or
    2. The system is waiting for hardware


    Assuming then it's a hardware issue follow the Dr's sound advice above.

    If that doesn't through up any fixes consider the "elephant in the room": RAID10. Since you say this is on-board, it sounds like a hardware RAID. Perhaps the RAID card has a problem. If a disk had failed, the RAID would continue as normal until you replace the drive whereupon the disks would thrash until the mirroring had caught up with itself. No system impact would be noticed. However, if the RAID card itself has a problem, you may be bottle-necked. The system may have placed a request for data from your disk array, but the request might not be being serviced by the card.

    Check the system with whatever RAID utilities you are using to verify the health of the card and also check the System Logs in Event Viewer to look for history of data timeouts.

  8. #8
    Bronze Lounger DrWho's Avatar
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    Cool

    Afterthought 1:
    There is a HD mode that I've not seen in a long time and that was on an IDE drive, where the drive goes into "Crawl Mode" and everything involving the HD like booting up or loading a program just seems to drag on forever. I cloned one of those drives onto a NEW drive one day (that's the only repair) and it took 12 hours. Slow, YES, but that did get the job done and the new drive ran nice and fast, as I'd hoped it would. Nowhere on the PC does that show up as an error.

    A good test for this condition, that I've actually used:
    Load something like Solitaire, that once loaded into ram, does not require the HD.
    See how long it takes to load. It should only be a few seconds, at the most.
    Then play the game and see if it plays normally. If it loads slowly, but plays fast, then the problem is definitely in the HD and not in Windows.

    I've never seen this documented anywhere, but it's just something from my own experiences.

    Good Luck,
    The Doctor
    Experience is truly the best teacher.

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  9. #9
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    Sorry I haven't had an opportunity to reply, and thanks for the suggestions.

    I have followed the Doctor's advice regarding the hardware, and nothing changed.

    I then decided to use msconfig and set XP up for a (relatively) clean boot by disabling system.ini, win.ini, and all non-microsoft services.

    The results were interesting. The machine booted, and programs would load, but network access was completely dead: no other machines on the network could see the machine, and launching either Firefox or IE would do nothing (neither program would load).

    Now for the interesting part: I got distracted by a phone call, and about 15 minutes later, the machine suddenly started thrashing the disk, and both Firefox and IE loaded with internet and local net access.

    So I'm thinking, OK, my Intel 1 gig PCIe card has a problem. So I pull the card, re-enable the onboard lan chip in the BIOS, load its drivers, and reboot. Same results. The machine is waiting for something, and about 15 minutes later, it comes to life.

    So I believe TT is correct: the machine is waiting for either user input (unlikely, since I don't see anything), or some piece of hardware to be ready.

    I've run memtest 4.2 overnight, and no problems. Once the system is responsive, the onboard intel raid10 reports no issues.

    Still stumped. I'd really like to figure out whether it's hardware or software. If it's software, I'm prepared to start fresh and install win7, re-installing the apps I need. But if it's hardware, installing win7 would be a waste of time.

    If I can't think of anything else, I will likely disconnect the raid drives, and install win7 to a fresh SSD to see if it IS hardware.

  10. #10
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    A very interesting set of results. Sounds very much like a hardware issue.

    It may be quite difficult to find the culprit and it may be even more difficult to fix without major surgery on the system. However, perhaps a couple of things to consider for diagnostics:

    • Download a 30-day trial of Win7 and load onto a spare Sata disk. Run the system off that to see if a clean install resolves some problems.
    • Run the system headless from a Linux Live CD e.g. Ubuntu or Fedora. Again determine if there are any issues.


    The key thing in both of those routes would be to disable the onboard RAID in the BIOS (identity mark and disconnect the drives too, just in case!). My reasoning is that if you suspect the RAID, you need to remove it from the equation and verify that the system performs normally. The standalone SATA drive running Win7 on 30-day trial will give you a good picture of the motherboard chipset performance running in normal AHCI or IDE mode. The Linux Live CD will give you a clearer idea about the SATA interface: for example, Win 7 on SATA is still slow, but Linux runs clean may indicate you have a SATA port issue.

    Having said all that, should there be a reasonable indication of a motherboard/chipset issue, it could get quite messy fairly quickly. Replacing a motherboard is, as I'm sure you know, technically fairly straightforward. The difficulty is the potential for chasing your tail with fairly expensive motherboards - you won't want to swap too many of those.

    If your 30-day trial of Win7 runs ok without the RAID you may have the opportunity to build it on a RAID to check the RAID port too, but you need to keep you XP RAID drives safe to avoid overwriting the data and destroying the RAID.
    Last edited by Tinto Tech; 2011-09-11 at 18:56.

  11. #11
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    ATA/IDE controllers?

    I had a similar problem--twice, about 6 months apart. I don't know how I was able to find this piece of advice, but it restored my computer to its old self.

    Excerpt from http://frazzleddad.blogspot.com/2006...-hardware.html

    Turns out ATA/IDE controllers will often revert back to PIO mode instead of Ultra-DMA. (MS KB article on the problem: http://support.microsoft.com/default...b;en-us;817472.)

    Check the problem by examining the controller’s Primary and Secondary IDE settings:
    To re-enable the typical, or faster, transfer mode for an affected device:
    1. In Control Panel, double-click Administrative Tools, and then click Computer Management.
    2. Click System Tools, and then click Device Manager.
    3. Expand the IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers node.
    4. Double-click the controller for which you want to restore the typical DMA transfer mode. IF the Current Transfer Mode is PIO, then
    5. Click the Driver tab.
    6. Click Uninstall.
    7. When the process completes, restart your computer. When Windows restarts, the hard disk controller is re-enumerated and the transfer mode is reset to the default value for each device that is connected to the controller.
    Last edited by renman; 2011-09-14 at 11:11.

  12. #12
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    The ATA/IDE controller is only for my CD/DVD burner, the main disks are running in RAID10.

    I was intrigued by the lack of network connectivity for 15 minutes after boot, started to root around the registry and file system, and found this: I had installed then uninstalled VMware a month or two ago. VMware uninstalls apparently do a very poor job of uninstalling, and leave several drivers and services running. Kind of like a virus, really. And the virtual drivers it leaves replace your real drivers, and act erratically (to be kind).

    I found a "How to REALLY uninstall VMware" article on their site, and once I removed ALL the crap they left behind, not only did I not have network access, my keyboard stopped working. One step forward, two steps back.

    So I did more research, and found the reg tweaks required to remove their reg entries and restore my network and keyboard to their original install status, and SO FAR, the machine has been acting normally. But the problem was intermittent, so I won't declare victory for another week or two :-).

    In any case, I have been prodded into installing a fresh win 7 soon. My original XP install was an upgrade like this: XP-WIN2000-WINNT-WIN98SE-WIN98-WIN95A-WIN95-WIN 3.1-WIN3.0-WIN2.1.

    So the last time I did a clean install is WIN 2.1, which kind of shocked me once I'd worked that out.

    I'd like to thank everyone who made suggestions on what sorts of things to check. This is an excellent resource.

  13. #13
    New Lounger
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    Another idea

    Have you run a disk check? I had similar problems and disk check solved it. In your windows explorer, right click on your C: drive, go to properties, open the TOOLS, select Check Now under error checking, and check both boxes. It will tell you the check will happen on reboot, so reboot. This process can take quite a while, depending on how big your C: drive is, but it will return to windows when finished.

    Also, since you're using a system that has not been given a fresh install since way back in the day, I'd suggest you give that some thought.

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