Solve your XP network headaches

By Brian Livingston

My readers have discovered some severe problems with Windows XP exhibiting maddeningly slow printing and file copying on a mixed network with Win 2000 and Win 9x machines. Fortunately, we’ve also diagnosed some causes and found some cures.

First, let’s emphasize that these slowdowns are not related to the problem caused by installing patch MS03-013 on Win XP with Service Pack 1, as reported in the May 8 issue of Brian’s Buzz (see “XP, IE, and OE patches cause their own problems“).

Microsoft on May 28 released a corrected patch that cleared this up, as I reported in the paid version of my June 5 issue (see the section entitled “Microsoft officially corrects the XP patch slowdown problem“).

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By contrast, the type of XP network slowdowns that we’re discussing here are described by reader John Meyer:

  • “File copies between Win 98/Me and Win XP machines are slow when the copy operations are initiated on XP, but fast when initiated on a 98 machine.

    “This problem is well documented in the microsoft.public.windowsxp.network_web newsgroup. No one has yet found a cure.

    “All you need is a Win XP machine (SP1 doesn’t alter the problem) and a machine using Win 95/98/98SE/Me. If you copy files using Windows Explorer on the Win 98 machine and you copy from the 98 computer to the XP computer, you get normal, fast performance. If, however, you use Windows Explorer on the XP machine and copy the same files – and copy them in the same direction (i.e., from the 98 to the XP machine) – the performance is 1/3 to 1/4 what you get in the other direction.

    “Dozens of people have reported this problem. (By the way, this is a different problem from the slow browsing problem, where it takes XP a long time to ‘discover’ computers on the network. That problem can be fixed with a Registry change.)

    “Things that don’t fix this problem: Changing protocols (NetBEUI or IPX instead of TCP/IP); turning off NetBIOS over TCP/IP; setting the NIC on either or both machines to half duplex; defeating XP’s firewall; and deleting stored passwords on the XP machine.

    “The one thing that has been reported to work, but isn’t an option for many of us: upgrading both machines to XP. If the Win 95/98/Me computer is upgraded to XP, the problem goes away.”
Well, far be it from me to recommend that everyone pay Microsoft to “downgrade” to XP. Instead, reader Alan Chattaway describes how he fixed the problem with a useful, free tool he recommends:

  • “The network used to work well when first set up, but after one of the XP upgrades, printing from Win XP to the printer attached to Win 95 took five minutes to start. File transfers out of XP were equally slow and if the file was large they often died, leaving a message saying the destination PC was no longer there.

    “I had researched every site Google could find that offered tips on this topic. Many tips concerned ‘opportunistic record locking,’ Registry changes, etc. Nothing helped.

    “My son – who until recently was a sys admin in another city – visited last week and downloaded and ran Ethereal, a free packet sniffer he recommends. He discovered Win XP was re-sending packets repeatedly, as if collisions had been detected – resulting in packet floods, packets arriving out of order, and general chaos.

    “But Ethereal reported no actual collisions! As a test, XP and Win2K machines were removed from the network and connected to each other with a crossover [cable]. Everything was then perfect. File transfers that used to take 28 minutes (if they ever finished) now took 55 seconds.

    “The evidence (especially the last test) pointed to a problem in the network hub – but a problem that didn’t exist prior to Win XP receiving the fatal update. We rushed out and bought a switch to replace the hub. Bingo! Problem solved in all directions for all nodes.

    “As all nodes could surf the Net and ping each other at acceptable speeds during the time the problem existed, I believe the hub had not developed any defect. Its design simply didn’t anticipate something Microsoft did to XP in one of the free upgrades.

    “The other big lesson is this: I had assumed there were no traffic-related problems on the network because the Task Manager graph never showed the network more than 1.5% busy while problem files were transferring. But after the hub was changed to a switch, peak traffic fell to undetectable levels. I just didn’t realize 1.5% was high enough to be a problem!”
That’s a nightmare, but one with a happy ending, although it took a real effort. If you’re interested, a good review of a slightly earlier version of Ethereal with technical tips on its use is online at Sys Admin magazine.

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