Vista ‘resume’ bug plagues laptop users

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

A Microsoft engineer slammed Vista’s ReadyBoost feature as the source of a maddening bug, only to withdraw his charge the next day.

Whether or not ReadyBoost is to blame for the bug — which brings laptops to a crawl when resuming from sleep or hibernation mode — the problem remains a mystery for many who use Vista.

Microsoft engineer reports ‘Vista suckage’

In a July 7 post entitled “Vista ReadyBoost Suckage & Vista resume sluggishness,” Microsoft security software engineer Robert Hensing identified an apparent bug in which Vista can take several minutes to resume after a portable computer is put into sleep or hibernation mode.

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“The disk just freaking thrashes and the HDD [hard disk drive] light stays on pretty much solid and the whole machine is pretty much unusable for about 5–8 minutes until the disk ‘settles down,’ ” he wrote.

Nearly identical symptoms had been reported previously in blogs such as jkOnTheRun and Kevtris.

During the sluggish resume, Hensing noticed that Vista was writing several hundred megabyes per minute to the Flash drive he used for his ReadyBoost cache. ReadyBoost is a new Vista feature that uses a USB Flash drive as additional memory, as described by Microsoft. Hensing discovered that his notebook computer resumed Vista in just a few seconds if he removed the Flash drive during sleep mode.

Hensing theorizes that ReadyBoost needed to regenerate the AES128 encryption key on the Flash drive at the same time that it was restoring data from the hard disk. He went on to state that the problem was expected to be fixed in SP1, Vista’s much-anticipated first service pack. His post was quickly picked up by Long Zheng, another victim of the bug, who covered the emerging story on his IStartedSomething blog.

Initial post disappears as confusion mounts

Within a few days, however, the Hensing post disappeared from the Internet. Long Zheng and other bloggers took note, and a short time after that, the Hensing post reappeared — minus the original negative headline and with the original text formatted with strikeover lines.

The new post reports that the problem seemed to disappear after letting Windows Update install some patches. Hensing recanted his original theory blaming ReadyBoost and promised an update when more information was available. Unfortunately for his readers, Hensing failed to identify a particular patch that solved the problem.

There’s no shortage of proposed solutions in the blogosphere, though. For example, James Kendrick reported in his blog that he was able to solve the problem by implementing some Registry tweaks designed to turn off Vista’s SuperFetch feature and use of virtual memory. Such changes are counterintuitive at best, since these features are specifically designed to improve Windows’ performance. Nevertheless, “My disk thrashing has practically stopped,” he reports. “It now only takes five seconds to go into standby and about the same to resume. Overall I’m finding the disk activity to be similar to Windows XP and I am very happy with the outcome.”

Windows Secrets columnist Susan Bradley posted on her blog a collection of links to Microsoft hotfixes relating to Vista hibernation problems. These patches are expected to be rolled into Vista SP1, yet none of them precisely describes the symptoms reported here.

To date, Microsoft has not offered a clear, consistent explanation of the problem(s) behind the troubling laptop behavior. When asked about the situation, Microsoft representatives told me that they had no information to share at this time. Until they do, users are left to experiment with one of the word-of-mouth solutions proposed in various blog postings.

Problems such as this may explain why neither businesses nor consumers are in a hurry to upgrade to Vista, according to a report by Associated Press business writer Jessica Mintz. As she notes, “Gripes over what doesn’t work with Vista continue, eclipsing positive buzz over the program’s improved desktop search, graphics, and security.”

Readers, any details you can contribute would be welcome. We’ll send a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of your choice to anyone whose comment we print. Send us your tips using the Windows Secrets contact page.

Scott Dunn is associate editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He is also a contributing editor of PC World Magazine, where he has written a monthly column since 1992, and co-author of 101 Windows Tips & Tricks (Peachpit) with Jesse Berst and Charles Bermant.
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