XP Service Pack 1 clogs USB ports

Microsoft has acknowledged that installing Service Pack 1 on Windows XP can make USB ports so slow that they almost seem to have frozen. This occurs because the “lazy write” cache gets confused about what information has been written to disk, with the result that the same bits are sent many times over.

Reader Dan Landiss of St. Louis, Mo., describes how he discovered this and what he’s done about it so far:

  • Has Microsoft broken USB?

    “Specifically, writing a large number of small files to a USB Flash RAM under WinXP takes over twenty times as long as under Win2000. Writing to the Flash RAM is actually slower than to a ZIP disk! The actual write speed worked out to about 4 Kbps, roughly the same as a decent V.90 modem, and about 0.05% (1/2000) of the rated speed (8000 Kbps) of the USB2 Flash RAM.

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    “A possible cause is discussed in MS KB 828012. After a few messages back and forth, I got MS to authenticate me to download the patch mentioned therein (it is not public), but it does not solve the problem.

    “When I contacted MS, the first support rep that responded did not even understand the problem. He insisted that the slowdown I was seeing was ‘normal.’ I eventually got him to escalate the issue to a higher level, a ‘Microsoft Windows Escalation Support Professional.’

    “The next guy admitted the problem exists, said ‘this problem also occurs on my side,’ and had me disable some Windows services to see if they were related. He and I also tested on several WinXP and W2K machines to ensure that the problem was repeatable and specific to XP.

    “Since no tests he asked me to run showed any improvement, he turned the problem over to ‘the developers.’ That was on 1 February, and I have heard nothing yet.”
The Knowledge Base article Landiss refers to offers a hotfix for this problem, but obtaining it requires contacting Product Support Services via a link in the article, and there may be a charge. Fortunately, the difficulty seems to be localized enough in the write-behind disk cache that simply turning the feature off may be better than installing the software fix. (Write-behind caching is supposed to make a PC seem faster by postponing disk writes for a few seconds. I find this is never worth the hassles it can create.)

According to Microsoft’s KB article, the bug and the simple workaround are as follows:

  • “When you write data to an external storage device such as a Universal Serial Bus (USB) flash card reader or a Magneto-Optical (MO) drive, it may take a very long time for all the data to be written to the device. If you examine a bus trace of that device, you notice that there are many duplicate write operations (where the same data is written to the same destination). …
    “To work around this problem, turn off write caching for the storage device. For a USB or removable storage device, configure the caching policy to use the Optimize for quick removal option in Device Manager. To do so, follow these steps:

    1. Click Start, right-click My Computer, and then click Properties.
    2. Click the Hardware tab, and then click Device Manager.
    3. Expand Disk Drives, right-click your storage device, and then click Properties.
    4. Click the Policies tab, click Optimize for quick removal, and then click OK. …

    “This problem only affects Windows XP with SP1 installed or integrated. It does not affect Windows XP without SP1 installed, Microsoft Windows 2000, or Microsoft Windows Server 2003.”
If you’re having this problem, do turn off write-caching to see if it corrects things. If not, you can easily change the configuration back.


Outlook Service Pack 2 interferes with e-mail

A different service pack for a different product created a pack of grief for reader John Moorhead:

  • “I recently had a problem with my personal system running Outlook on W2K, where it would fail to send any large messages or messages with attachments. The failure code was clearly stated, so I plugged it into a search engine and got immediately to Microsoft’s Hotfix page that referenced that error. It, in turn, referred me to another hotfix, and when I followed the trail, that second one referred me back to the first one. Circular argument with no exit loop!

    “Fortunately, I work for a very large computer company, which has internal tech resources. I described my dilemma to my local tech, and he followed the same trail as I had initially, with no success. He then called Microsoft and gained access to a special technical support line for registered support personel. In short order he was refered to the KB 829343 hotfix and we downloaded it; this indeed solved my problem. An aside to this is that the Microsoft site indicated this service cost $1,200 for non-supported users. (Of course, for a large corporation such as ours, the yearly blanket support fee covers this type of problem.) There was also a disclaimer that said the hotfix was ‘untested’ and therefore may not work properly.

    “What irks me about this is that as a regular consumer I did not have any recourse — I was just lucky enough to be able to tap into some available local technical support that was able to push the right buttons. In addition, if I had worked for a smaller company, that $1,200 fee would have been a big hit in the IT budget, considering that Microsoft charged for the fix to their own bug. And they have the gall to charge for something they admit ‘may not work properly in all situations.’

    “This just justifies in my mind why I’ve focused my career on Unix flavors for the last 17 years.”
If you’re having the problems described by Moorhead, and you don’t have an annual support contract and don’t wish to pay for Microsoft support on this issue, you may be abe to get relief from a comprehensive new service pack.

Microsoft released Office XP Service Pack 3 only two days ago. Since Outlook 2002 is often distributed as a part of Office XP, SP3 may not only clear up the problem described above, but several other unrelated bugs. Since this is a new update that’s quite sizeable, however, I urge you to test it in your environment before installing it to very many people.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2004-03-11: