Hardware

Troubleshoot PC system slowdowns with a 10-point plan

When PC performance slows to a crawl, a systematic troubleshooting plan will help you zero in on the cause. Deb Shinder runs through likely culprits and describes steps you can take to improve system performance.

Windows 7 has been out for almost a year, and the PCs you bought right after its release may be slowing down now. User complaints are minimal when new PCs are rolled out. They start up quickly, and programs seem to open in a snap. But over time, users begin to notice that their systems are slower or hang up more and more often. While the possible causes of system slowdown are endless, this article identifies 10 common troubleshooting areas you should examine before you consider drastic steps such as reformatting and reimaging or buying new computers.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download. This post was originally published in September 2010 in the 10 Things Blog.

1: Processor overheating

Chipmakers have recently been working to make processors more efficient, which means they generate less heat. Nonetheless, some modern processors still generate a lot of heat. That's why all processors require some sort of cooling element, typically a fan of some type. A system's Thermal Design Point (TDP) rating indicates, in watts, how much heat it can safely dissipate without exceeding the maximum temperature for the chip. When the processor temperature goes over spec, the system can slow down or run erratically (lock up) or may simply reboot. The processor fan may fail for several reasons:

  • Dust is preventing the fan from spinning smoothly.
  • The fan motor has failed.
  • The fan bearings are loose and jiggling.

Often, you can tell if there is a fan problem by listening and/or touching the computer. A fan that has loose bearings starts jiggling and vibrates the case, making a characteristic noise. As time goes by, the sounds and vibrations will become so prominent that you'll change the fan out just to regain some peace and quiet.

You don't always need to replace the fan. If it is covered with dust, you can often spray away the dust with compressed air. But even though you might get the fan running again, its life span has likely been reduced because of the overwork. You should keep an extra fan in reserve in case of failure.

Processors may also overheat because the heat sink is not properly placed above the processor or the thermal paste is not of good quality or was applied incorrectly (or not at all) when the system was built. This is more likely to be a problem with home-built systems but can happen with commercially manufactured ones as well. The paste can break down over time, and you may need to reapply it.

Case design is another element that can contribute to or help prevent overheating. Cases with extra fans, better vents, and adequate room inside for good airflow may cost more but can provide superior cooling performance. Small cases that squeeze components together can cause overheating. For this reason, laptops with powerful processors are prone to overheating.


Tip

Another common reason for processor overheating is overclocking. Until heat begins to take its toll, overclocking does allow for significant performance improvements. Because processor overclocking can really cook a processor, most dedicated overclockers do not use regular processor fans. Instead, they use complex -- and expensive -- water-cooling systems. For more information on overclocking, check out overclockers.com.


Overheating can also be caused by the external temperature (that is, the temperature in the room). Computers no longer have to be kept in cold rooms as they did in the early days of computing, but if the room temperature goes above 80, you may find your computers exhibiting the symptoms of overheating. If the temperature is uncomfortable for you, it's probably too high for your computers. Adequate ventilation is also important.

Most computers today have an option to display the CPU temperature in the BIOS. There are also a number of utilities that will track the temperature of your processor and case, such as Core Temp. If you want to look for other such utilities, check out TechRepublic's software library and use the search term "temperature."

2: Bad RAM

Several situations can lead to RAM-related performance problems with a particular machine:

  • RAM timing is slower than optimal machine spec.
  • RAM has minor flaws that appear only on detailed testing.
  • RAM is overheating.
  • There is insufficient RAM.

In the old days of Fast Page RAM, buying new RAM for your computer was a simple affair. You just needed to know what speed your motherboard supported and the maximum each slot would take. Today, there are many types and speeds of RAM, and the better motherboards may be tolerant of using RAM that does not match the motherboard's maximum specs. For example, your motherboard may support PC133 RAM but will still work with PC100 RAM. But be aware that you may see performance decreases if you install RAM that is slower than the maximum spec. Some motherboards will even allow you to mix speeds but will default to the slowest RAM installed.

Minor flaws in RAM chips can lead to system slowdowns and instability. The least expensive chips often have minor flaws that will cause your system to slow down or Blue Screen intermittently. Although built-in mechanisms may allow the system to keep working, there is a performance hit when it has to deal with flawed RAM chips.

In the past, no one worried about RAM chips getting hot, because they didn't seem to generate much heat. But that's changed with newer RAM types, especially SDRAM. To check for overheating, open your computer's case, power down, and pull the plug out. Ground yourself and touch the plastic on one of your RAM chips. Ouch! They get pretty hot. If you find that your RAM chips are overheating, you should consider buying a separate fan to cool your memory. If your motherboard doesn't support a RAM fan, you might be able to get enough additional cooling by installing a fan card that plugs in to a PCI slot.

Of course, one common reason for poor performance that's related to RAM is simply not having enough of it. Modern operating systems such as Windows 7 and today's resource-hungry applications, combined with our increasing tendency toward extreme multitasking, result in a need for more RAM. The minimal specified system requirements may not cut it if you're doing lots of multimedia or running other memory-intensive applications. Note that 32-bit Windows is limited to using 4 GB of RAM, but 64-bit Windows 7 can handle from 8 to 192 GB, depending on the edition. If your system allows, adding more RAM can often increase performance.

3: Hard disk issues

Traditional hard drives are mechanical devices that eventually wear out. There are many signs of imminent failure before a hard disk finally gives up. Some of these signs include:

  • Slow access times on the affected drive.
  • An increasing number of bad sectors when running scandisk and chkdsk.
  • Unexplained Blue Screens.
  • Intermittent boot failures.
  • An "Imminent Hard Disk Failure" warning.

Detecting a failing hard disk can be tricky because the early signs are subtle. Experienced computer professionals can often hear a change in the normal disk spin. After the disk deteriorates further, you'll see the system slow to a crawl. Write processes will take a long time as the system tries to find good blocks to write to. (This will occur if you're using a robust file system such as NTFS; other file systems will likely Blue Screen the computer.)

When you notice the system slowing down, run scandisk or chkdsk, depending on your operating system. If you notice a bad sector where a good sector existed earlier, that's a clue that the disk is going bad. Back up the data on the disk and prepare for it to fail soon. Make sure you have a spare disk ready so that you can replace it when it fails or replace the disk as soon as you notice the early signs of failure.

Disk noise and scandisk/chkdsk are your best indicators for identifying a failing drive that's leading to a system slowdown. However, if you are managing a system remotely or you can't take the system down for a full chkdsk/R, you can use tools that monitor disk health, such as Executive Software's DiskAlert.

You may also get a warning message from SMART hard drives that failure is imminent. Sometimes, you'll get these warnings when the hard drive is fine, due to problems with the hard drive device driver, the chipset driver, or the way the BIOS interfaces with the drive. Check for newer versions of the drivers and BIOS firmware.

Even if it's operating properly, your hard disk may be a bottleneck that's slowing down the rest of your system. See the next item for more information on what you can do about that.

4: Disk type and interface

Once upon a time, buying a hard drive to work with your system was easy. Today, things are more complicated, with many types of drives available, offering differing levels of performance. Most modern motherboards will support more than one type.

For best performance, you may want to dump the old IDE PATA type drives and upgrade to SATA, which comes in several speeds from 1.5 Gb/s to 6 Gb/s. Obviously, the faster drives will also be more expensive. Some new computers also have eSATA connectors for attaching a SATA drive externally. Other options for attaching drives externally include USB and Firewire/IEEE 1394.

Slowdowns may be caused by installing programs or often-used files on slow external drives. If you must use external drives for such files, go with the latest version, such as USB 3.0 (which is up to four times faster than USB 2.0) or Firewire 800. If you don't have ports to support the faster version, you can install a card to add support.

New Solid State Drives (SSDs), which generally connect via SATA, can often provide better performance than other drive types but cost much more per GB of storage space. Windows 7 includes support for TRIM, which optimizes SSD performance. SCSI drives are still around, too, notably in the form of Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) with super-fast access times -- but they're expensive and noisy and used primarily for servers.

Stay on top of the latest Microsoft Windows tips and tricks with TechRepublic's Windows Desktop newsletter, delivered every Monday and Thursday. Automatically sign up today!

5: BIOS settings

One frequently ignored cause of system slowdown is the machine's BIOS settings. Most people accept the BIOS settings as they were configured in the factory and leave them as is. However, slowdowns may occur if the BIOS settings do not match the optimal machine configuration. Often, you can improve machine performance by researching your motherboard's optimal BIOS settings, which may not be the same as the factory defaults.

There is no centralized database of optimal BIOS settings, but you can employ a search engine such as Google or Bing and use your motherboard name and BIOS as keywords to find the correct settings.

6: Windows services

Many Windows services are enabled by default. A lot of these services, however, are not required for your machine to run properly. You should review the services running on your Windows XP/Vista/7 computer and disable those that you don't need.

One way to see which services are running is to use the Services applet found in the Administrative Tools menu. In Windows 7, click Start and type Services in the search box, then select Component Services. In the console's left pane, click Services (Local) to display the list of services, shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Use the Component Services console to identify the services running on your system.
Important information contained in the Services console includes the service Name, Status, and Startup Type. You can get more details on a service by double-clicking on it to bring up the service's Properties, shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The Properties sheet for the service provides detailed information.

You can stop the service by clicking the Stop button. If you are sure that you don't need the service, click the down arrow in the Startup Type drop-down list box and set the service to Disabled. If you are not sure if you need the service, change the Startup Type to Manual. Then you'll have the option of manually starting the service if you find that you need it.

Another way of controlling which services start is using the msconfig utility (see Figure C). In Windows 7, click Start and in the search box, type msconfig. Click msconfig.exe.

Figure C

Use the System Configuration utility to control the behavior of services.

Note that some secure Microsoft services cannot be disabled. These are considered essential for running the computer. For a list of some Windows 7 services you may be able to disable, see "Disable Unwanted Services and Speed Up Windows."

Editor's note: Disabling services is not to be done lightly - know what services you are disabling and why. Disabling services can corrupt your Windows installation.

7: Runaway processes

Runaway processes take up all of the processors' cycles. The usual suspects are badly written device drivers and legacy software installed on a newer operating system. You can identify a runaway process by looking at the process list in the Windows Task Manager (see Figure D). Any process that takes almost 100 percent of the processing time is likely a runaway process.

Figure D

Use the Task Manager to identify processes that are slowing the system.

We see an exception to this rule, however, if we click the button to Show Processes from All Users. On a smoothly running system, the System Idle Process should be consuming the majority of the processor cycles most of the time. If any other process were to take up 98 percent of the processor cycles, you might have a runaway process.

If you do find a runaway process, you can right-click it and click the End Process command. You may need to stop some processes, such as runaway system services, from the Services console. If you can't stop the service using the console, you may need to reboot the system. Sometimes a hard reboot is required.

For more detailed information about running processes, check out Process Explorer 12.04, shown in Figure E. This is a handy little utility written by Mark Russinovich that includes powerful search capabilities.

Figure E

Process Explorer gives you more detailed information about running processes.
8: Disk fragmentation

As files are added, deleted, and changed on a disk, the contents of the file can become spread across sectors located in disparate regions of the disk. This is file fragmentation. All Windows operating systems subsequent to Windows NT have built-in disk defragmentation tools, but there are also third-party programs available that give you more options.

If you have traditional hard disks, disk fragmentation can significantly slow down your machine. The disk heads must move back and forth while seeking all the fragments of a file. A common cause of disk fragmentation is a disk that is too full. You should keep 20 percent to 25 percent of your hard disk space free to minimize file fragmentation and to improve the defragmenter's ability to defrag the disk. So if a disk is too full, move some files off the drive and restart the defragmenter.

Note that SSDs work differently and can access any location on the drive in essentially the same amount of time. Thus, they don't need to be defragmented.

9: Background applications

Have you ever visited an end user's desktop and noticed a dozen icons in the system tray? Each icon represents a process running in either the foreground or background. Most of them are running in the background, so the users may not be aware that they are running 20+ applications at the same time.

This is due to applications starting up automatically in the background. You can find these programs in the Startup tab of the System Configuration utility, as shown in Figure F. Uncheck the box to disable the program from starting at bootup.

Figure F

You can disable programs from starting when you boot Windows.
10: File system issues and display options

Some file systems work better than others for large disk partitions. Windows 7 should always use the NTFS file system for best performance.

Cleaning up the file system will also help speed performance. You can use the Disk Cleanup tool to:

  • Remove temporary Internet files.
  • Remove downloaded program files (such as Microsoft ActiveX controls and Java applets).
  • Empty the Recycle Bin.
  • Remove Windows temporary files such as error reports.
  • Remove optional Windows components you don't use.
  • Remove installed programs you no longer use.
  • Remove unused restore points and shadow copies from System Restore.

To run Disk Cleanup in Windows 7, click Start and type Disk Cleanup in the search box. Select the drive you want to clean up.

Another way to increase performance is by turning off some of the visual effects that make Windows 7 look cool but use valuable system resources. In Control Panel, click the System applet and in the left pane, click Advanced System Settings. Under Performance, click the Settings button and then the Visual Effects tab. Here, you can disable selected Aero effects or just click Adjust for Best Performance, as shown in Figure G, which disables them all.

Figure G

You can turn off selected (or all) visual effects to increase performance.

Conclusion

When troubleshooting a system slowdown, you should always look for potential hardware problems first. Then, investigate the common software problems. If you use a systematic troubleshooting plan, you should be able to improve the performance of most computers suffering from system slowdown.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

48 comments
gdixon
gdixon

For those still using WinXP, a BIG warning is required. One option is to tick "Compress old files". DO NOT EVER, EVER, EVER select this one. It will compress old files quite effectively, but it does not care what sort. So it WILL compress the Windows and application executables. Therefore all the hard work you have done to speed up your computer will be rendered useless as the system has to uncompress the Windows and apps files to use them and then re-compress when you're finished. The only fix to this is a re-build from scratch. For system admins, there is a reg hack that can be pushed out via group policy to disable this option for your users. Fortunately, Microsoft has had the sense to remove this from Win7.

bjorn
bjorn

Great article and a good step by step guide to go by when re-optimizing a machine! One important item could/should be added however: Virus/malware removal. A good virus sweep is usually essential in making sure no bugs are slowing things down and otherwise causing some major issues. >> XPert Solutions - Calgary >> Bjorn

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

This should be done AFTER checking for malware/viruses, as this will slow down a PC as well. I have found that the biggest culprit, over time, is bad RAM. It either slows down a system, or crashes it. Background processes/applications are also a big one. People often hide everything in the system tray, so they are not aware that things are running. Many don't even know that things are running when they can see them in the System Tray. These are all valid points though.

taylorstan
taylorstan

Start-up programs and services. msconfig.exe will show programs that are starting when windows does. Adobe and Java are notorious for adding their updaters to the start-up without permission. Also media players like quicktime and realplayer will do this also.

hok.yap
hok.yap

The registry is fragmented when adds/changes of programms occur. Often stub are not removed after deletion and invallid links and data are remaining. Including nolonger valid references to extensions. Using a registry tool for cleaning up and Defragmenting the registry can help tremendously.

stan-g
stan-g

Overall good - BUT - many businesses still have XP for main operating system. Vista & Win 7 may not need to defrag the hard drive but XP does. Also in XP the registry needs an ocassional cleaning & compression. Memory Manager for XP could also help since some older programs aren't as memory 'friendly' as we might like.

tomhirt
tomhirt

Why have folks mess with hardware and bios first when 90% of the time the issue is with Malware. Next would be to remove the crapware that came with the system. Then I would start to work from your list bottom up.

dtaylor
dtaylor

In my experience reformatting and reimagining solve 90% of the slowdown problems with a computer that has been in service for 6 months or longer. Failed hardware issues are easy to determine and not useful here. Tell me how to figure out what about the OS?s files or registry structure I can test and fix to avoid having to reimage, that would be helpful.

AnswerMan
AnswerMan

Deb, At the end of point 6 there is a link that takes you to a "which services can I stop" page. I don't know whose page that is, but lots of people are blogging him to pull it down because it's bad advice. You may want to disassociate yourself from that person, and have it point to the list on TR.

manishgupta99
manishgupta99

The facts above stated are true but couldnt get how BIOS settings can be corrected for fast

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What other troubleshooting tips can you suggest. Is there a troubleshooting procedure that generally serves you well?

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

I know the Adobe Acrobat updates happen in the background. This can cause the computer to be slow for most of the day when you are sharing an internet connection with 75 other computers and most of them start downloading the update around the same time. The user doesn't get notified that an update is ready to install until after the Adobe download completes.

Dail
Dail

Which Registry Defrag Tool

stan-g
stan-g

Vista & Win 7 does have scheduling built in - I set it and forget it, unlike the defragger that came with XP. If the system can maintain itself from within itself then I think of it as automatic - Sorry. Tools I use are advanced system care 3 and smartdefrag from IOBIT. The ADC may not be best of breed but has a lot of tools for disk clean, registry clean & compress, memory recovery, etc. - all in one package. Smart Defrag can be setup to launch at strtup & defrag/optimize in idle time & on a schedule. I also use StartUp Optimizer by Cyberlion, and occasionally PageDefrag by SysInternals (owned by microsoft).

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Vista needs regular defragging. Is there such thing as Windows that doesn't need defragging? :|

M.R.
M.R.

These are pretty basic steps. I've used Proc Explorer and TM for troubleshooting for years but often find that they do not pinpoint malware or serious performance issues. Software that is running within normal system areas can be seen here but as an example I have a system on my desk now with misbehaving antivirus. Neither PE nor TM are able to see the process that is killing performance. Through stopping services I know it is the AV. Showing process for all users doesn't help. Anyone know if there is some trick to seeing more info? Hidden process?

fjp
fjp

Hardware is almost never the problem, IME. Manufacturers choose cooling, RAM, BIOS and hard discs to suit their product, and if they are wrong, they will be wrong from day one, not gradually slow down the machine! This is the most extraordinarily inept advice I have read on this subject.

mscoulter
mscoulter

While the percentage of hardware issues has increased over the years, the first place to look for slowdown problems is malware, software and the O/S. While doing so, look and listen for odd behavior or sounds. If you hear odd sounds, then check the fans and the hard drive. If you get BSODs or spontaneous reboots, check the motherboard, the PSU, the proc, the memory, etc. Don't forget to check the video card if there is a separate one...they usually have a fan onboard that can fail. There is always a reason to be found.

gechurch
gechurch

I have to disagree. TechRepublic has run very similar articles to this in the past, and I've replied pointing out bad advice, or some obvious tips that should have been mentioned. I think this article hits the target very well though. By contrast, suggesting to format and reload is not useful advice. There are plenty of times when it is the best option, but there are plenty more times when spending 10 minutes looking at the machine for things mentioned in the article (an experienced tech should be able to check most of them within 10 mins) will have the issue resolved. Suggesting a format and reload is a bit like suggesting replacing the engine of your car if it isn't performing well. Even if it does fix it, you don't know what the problem was. And because you didn't go through the process of determining the cause, there's no guarantee it will work. A lot of the time formatting isn't an option - or at least not a simple one. Often clients have lost serial numbers for important software, or no longer have the installation CD. Many times there is so much software, or so many fine-tuned preferences that too much would be lost. And if you are not doing it on-site (which I personally never do - it takes too long) then you won't have access to local printers, or networks etc so you may not be able to configure certain things. From a longer-term perspective, formatting and reloading doesn't help us much either. We never get the chance to research and diagnose, so we never learn. I also disagree that hardware issues are easy to determine. Sometimes they are obvious, but far more often they cause software to fail in all sorts of interesting ways. You can spend hours tracking down different blue screens or error messages, all red-herrings that were actualyl caused by failing hardware. RAM and power supplies in particular are bad for this, as are hard drives with bad sectors. To answer your questions about how to figure things out: Registry - If you suspect a registry entry is to blame, try restoring the registry. The easiest way is using system restore but you can also do it manually. Backups created by system restore go in C:\System Volume Information. You'll find a bunch of dated folders, and a snapshot folder within each. These contain the system registry hives (system, software, security, sam). The current registry hives are found in C:\Windows\system32\config. You will have to replace them when they're not in use - either plug the drive into another PC, or boot from a CD. To compare registry versions, you can run regshot. Run it once before the restore and again after, then hit the compare button. This will show you all the keys that have changed. You can also use Sysinternals Process Monitor to monitor calls to registry and files. This program shows the key that was referenced, and the result. Once you know what you are doing, you learn to see what problems are stopping your program from running, and can figure out which key is to blame. If you suspect the OS files are corrupt, you can run "sfc /scannow". This will scan most Windows files and replace them with original copies if they have been modified (typically either through corruption, or by a virus). Updating to a newer service pack will also replace most files. If you are running Windows XP a repair install fixes most of these issues. Boot from your XP CD, and hit 'r' on the second screen (once it finds your existing installation). A repair install fixes pretty much all Windows issues, but keeps all programs and settings. Note you will need the product key. A cool tip here is you can hit Shift+F10 when asked for it during install, and a command prompt window will open. Plug in a USB stick and you can run a product key retrieval tool (Google "nirsoft" for a great bunch of free password and product key tools). It will retrieve the existing product key, which you can re-type. Vista and Windows don't let you do the repair install. You can instead do an in-place upgrade - where you boot into Windows and run Windows setup again from there, choosing to "upgrade" to the same version you already have. A quicker thing I often do if I suspect corrupt Windows files is to run Sysinternals Autoruns with the verify signatures option turned on. Most Windows files will show as verified if they have not been modified, so any that show as non-verified may well be corrupt. For blue screens, download windbg.exe. Simply open the crash dump (either C:\windows\memory.dmp or a file in C:\windows\minidumps depending on the recovery settings on the PC. When you open the dump file, windbg will automatically analyse it for you and come up with a culprit that probably caused the failure. Google the file it blames. If it third-party driver the diagnosis is probably correct. Update/disable the driver as appropriate. If it blames a legit Windows file, it is probably a misdiagnosis. This commonly happens when third-party drivers trample over the contents of memory locations of other components. The problem only comes to the fore when that trampled-on memory gets read again, and it's the file doing the reading that gets the blame in windbg. To track down these issues, run driver verifier (start - run - verifier). Create custom settings, turn on all options (except maybe low resource simulation), then choose to turn it on for all unsigned drivers. Normally all drivers run unwatched. Turning on driver verifier makes Windows perform checks for the selected drivers. If they do something illegal like I described above, Windows will crash immediately with a driver-verifier stop code. This will point to the actual root cause of the stop error. By the way, along with windbg you will get a help file that contains a complete list of stop errors. For each one the four paramaters meanings are listed, and often there is a section at the bottom that explains common causes of that error and what to do to fix it.

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

Does reformatting and reimaging help if your image was made after all 6 months of updates were installed? My XP machines all have well over 100 Microsoft updates on them. If I had to create a new image every time an update is installed, I'd be making a lot of images. I have one machine that I hardly use, but it still gets slower and slower. Sometimes I wonder if empty loops are added with some updates to intentionally slow things down...

sboverie
sboverie

Mind that changing the registry can lead to reinstalling the OS if done wrong. You should create a backup of the registry in case of problems with changes. A good place to go in the registry is HKLM/software/micorsoft/Windows/Currentversion/run to look at what is being run when Windows starts up. If you see something suspicious then do a search on the internet for more information about it. If you check this registry location frequently, then you will get a feeling for what belongs and what doesn't. Some malware can be found in this part of the registry. Another way to check the registry is to do a search on a name of a process or application. You may find registry entries for an application scattered through out the registry in other hives. If you are uninstalling an application and it does not properly uninstall, then this is a good method to clear out some of the entries in the register.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I added an Editor's note to the blog post. Please, understand that disabling services is not to be done on a whim - know what your are disabling and why. For novice users, services are probably best as is.

pweegar
pweegar

Something else I would suggest, is to run the checkdisk utility, either from the command line or from the properties page of the drive itself, under tools. This MAY require a reboot to fix problems, if any are found. From the command line type: chkdsk c: /r (replace the c: with whatever drive letter your pc boots from). Chkdsk will find and attempt to find/correct errors with the file system and hd. These errors can also affect performance, and can lead to data loss. One warning, if this has never been done on your pc, AND if your pc is a bit older, running chkdsk when your pc boots can take a far amount of time.

nathanialth
nathanialth

Many bios updates correct performance issues that may not have been noticed initial when a customer purchased the computer. Example: an HP laptop I worked on last week was having trouble with shutting down due to overheating. Thanks to a Bios update, HP corrected a temperature table which made the laptop's fan click on at a lower level. Thus, correcting the issue. I wouldn't adjust any settings in bios, but rather update the bios. It often adds updated information about processors and memory speeds.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

BIOS can affect system performance if some devices or ports are enabled that you are not using (parallel, serial, etc...). Making sure the CACHE settings are set correctly or turned on will affect performance as well. Sometimes upgrading/flashing the BIOS will help, but first make sure that the update will solve the slowdown issues you are experiencing (this is a last resort).

gechurch
gechurch

This is my basic process I run through (assuming I can take the computer off-site with me at least overnight): - Pull the hard drive, plug it into another PC and run three of my favourite malware/virus scanners (currently Kaspersky, Malwarebytes and NOD32). I have a program I wrote that loads the offline registry first (so it gets scanned also), and it checks for common virus signs (like an autorun.inf on the root of the drive) and also deletes all the contents of the temp and temporary internet files folders for each user profile. I generally also manually look in Application Data for each user and Program Files for obvious virus folders. - I then run another program I wrote that checks each users registry for startup entries (it does the same thing as msconfig/autoruns, but for offline registry files). If I suspect it might be an issue, I also run a full chkdsk at this stage. I may also run HDTune to check the speed of the hard drive if I suspect it as a problem. - Next I put the HDD back and boot to Windows. Often the job is done at this stage, except for a little tidying. - If there are still problems, I take it as it comes. If it looks like a virus is still present I will backup user settings/passwords etc, ghost their HDD then format and reload everything. If there are blue screens I will open the crash dumps in windbg. If they are consistently the same stop error I will disable the driver at fault, or research the error as appropriate. If the stop errors are random I ignore the actual errors and assume they are all caused by a different root cause. Typically this means a dodgy PSU, bad RAM, possibly a bad HDD (the thorough chkdsk above should pick this up though) or a thirdy-party driver. Hardware faults tend to give very different stop errors and other issues too (random unexplained slowness etc). If that is happening I would replace the RAM and PSU and re-test. I also re-run HDTune at this stage. If it's much slower I might install the latest driver. I also check for blown/bulging capacitors on the mothrboard and video card while I'm swapping parts. I might also reset the BIOS to defaults, or check for a BIOS update at this stage. I would also check the CPU HSF to make sure it is firmly connected, and the fan runs ok and isn't too dusty. If it's ok with the new hardware, it's a process of elimination to see which thing was the problem (and in the case of RAM, which stick). I use Memtest to check the RAM to confirm fault. Third-party driver faults tend to give the same or similar stop errors, but with different files being blamed each time. In this case I would run driver verifier and turn on all the tests for all unsigned drivers. If the machine is running very slow I usually start with Task Manager to look for high CPU usage. If it is high, but no particular process is to blame I run Process Explorer and check the threads of the highest consuming process. If that doesn't yield a culprit, I run kernrate. This polls the OS every few milliseconds to see what is running on the CPU, and collates the results, putting the highest consumer first. If that is a third-party driver you have a hit, if it's a Windows component it may be a hardware fault. That tends to cover most issues. Once I'm done I do a cleanup in Windows. I run Autoruns to clear out all the startup crap and to disable unwanted browser addons, I set back any changes viruses make (like disabling Task Manager), I make sure the main things works fine (for most users this means Internet, email and Office programs). I also set anything back that I've played with (eg. turning off driver verifier). I rarely bother stopping services, or tuning Windows performance settings, or pagefile settings, or uninstalling programs that aren't needed (unless they are greyware/crapware). If service or performance settings need tuning you are probably far better off buying a replacement PC - a 3-year old ex-corporate machine (core2duo, 2GB RAM, SATA HDD, DVD burner) costs all of $200 to buy on eBay here in Australia - probably less in America. I also don't defrag usually. I might as part of the tidy up process if I have time, but I never do it as part of troubleshooting. Defrag issues won't cause the massive slowness problems that people would bring a PC to me for. If I have to do this on-site, I start with Autoruns. Often clearing startup crap is enough by itself to fix problems, and it also reveals a lot of viruses. I might try a few of the above, but if I need to do a virus scan, HDD check, or anything else time-consuming I will stop early and take the machine with me.

vindasel
vindasel

That's a good summary of troubleshooting tips. I'd like to add one more culprit to the list of hardware issues: poor quality power. Often, a lousy PSU that doesn't supply sufficient, stable current to the components can cause problems. Really bad PSUs can take out entire systems :/ From the software side my usual maintenance/troubleshooting regime is (i) run malware/anti-virus scans with trustworthy utilities. Check with more than one utility if required (but do not have 2 A/V scanners installed on the system simultaneously) (ii) run a disk cleanup to clear out some disk space. Low disk space, especially on older systems with slow, small HDDs can cause performance problems. (iii) defrag thoroughly, especially if the MFT, page file et al are fragmented. For the long term, install a good automatic defragger on the system, since I find the windows default inadequate.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

Normally I would use Ccleaner to clean out the registry and then use Pagedefrag (from sysinternals) to defrag the page file and registry files.

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

require defragging. It is the nature of the beast. Files are being processed faster than the drive can keep up. When writing a file it is placed in the first available block or blocks large enough to hold it. If you are always coping and deleting files your drive will become fragmented. Ask someone who works with large image files or video editing.

gechurch
gechurch

Vista and 7 automatically set up a scheduled task to defrag. I imagine the poster was refering to the fact they do this automatically, rather than saying it is not needed at all. That said, I think defrag is the most overrated task in computing. NTFS is very good at avoiding fragmentation, and Windows OS's (including XP) align Windows and program boot files and defrag them automatically. A defrag might be useful once every six months. People think it is a magic bullet though. I still get people coming up to me saying they have advertising popups and warning messages about trojans and they go on to tell me "I've defragged, but the problem is still there"! Duh! Other people ask me if once a week is often enough! These are inevitably the same people that have 48 different programs start with Windows every time it loads. Want to speed up Windows - get rid of some of them.

glgruver
glgruver

If my memory serves me correctly, I found it in TR's Downloads some time ago. It gives you a realtime display of what software is running at the moment. Hope this helps.

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

I've had all kinds of hardware issues cause problems on computers. Especially if the computer is a couple of years old.

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

install updates and put it back in production. The reimage should take about 30 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the image and installing the missing updates (from the time the image was taken) to the current day should only take another hour max. Rebuilding from scratch takes much much longer.

wiggledbits
wiggledbits

I have to agree that often in the case of malware that won't clean easily and/or registry and software applications causing the PC to slow down re-imaging is faster if automated. As far as updates got I do not keep a completely up-to-date image because there are a number of good tools to apply updates in a automated batch. If interested I can post links to some of these.

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

This suggestion might help in theory, but in practice, it will take less time to reimage/reinstall the OS. So many things are given IDs of the form "89C31040-846B-11CE-97D3-00AA0055595A" when they're registered, that you can't find everything associated with an application unless you also search for its ID.

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

is a last resort? That is one of the first things you should update.

M.R.
M.R.

SMART disks sometimes report to the event log and the manufacturer diags usually read the SMART properly. What I am wishing for is a util that takes both processes and hardware performance into account. That would give me a total picture of where the system is losing resources or experiencing extended wait times (HD retries, etc.). I suppose you could tune a performance filter to give a similar view but it wouldn't be as "live" as task manager type apps or give you any control. Bottom line is I've had many systems with mystery performance issues. Proc Exp shows no overloading apps and hardware checks out. My guess is that it is something like antivirus running at a higher privilage level that PE can't "see".

gechurch
gechurch

Hardware can be tricky, because a lot of the time hardware failures are transparent to the OS. Either the hardware firmware itself detects the error and retries the operation or otherwise fixes the error (examples: hard drives detect and re-map bad sectors, ECC RAM) or the failure is there but not detected (examples: pretty much everything else; power trouble, non-ECC RAM, CPU errors etc). About the only exception I can think of is hard drives with SMART. This tracks and logs info and there are plenty of tools to read it. I have personally not found it very useful though. I can't recall a single time SMART has warned me about a drive problem before I knew about it myself. For most hardware I recommend using individual tools. For hard drives run a thorough chkdsk (/r) or run the manufacturers tool. For RAM run Memtest. For other issues I either swap parts with known-good ones or run Prime95 - a general purpose tool that catches many errors (particularly CPU, RAM and possibly power supply issues, although they won't be reported as such). You can also get little PSU testers - you plug the cables into this device and it displays red LEDs if any of the rails are out of the specified voltage range they should be. If a PSU passes this device it won't confirm that it is good - it needs to be tested under load - but they can be a quick way of confirming if one is bad. If you run the above tests and are still having trouble you need to get a bit more serious. Pull all the add-in cards out (PCI/PCI/PCIe), unplug all USB devices, reset BIOS, drop down to one stick of RAM, try different RAM slots, swap the CPU. If it's still no good pull the motherboard out of the case and test on the bench. If you get to this point and the problem persists, you've probably got a bad motherboard. The above is why you are best off checking for process/software errors first. Hardware faults are a lot more time-consuming and involve a bit of educated guessing.

M.R.
M.R.

Thanks, I have used it before, I don't remember if it showed more/less. Does anyone know if any of these utils show anything about hardware issues? The focus here is on precesses. I see I/O and memory usage but is there a memory error or disk error/retry column/window?

tomhirt
tomhirt

We are not saying hardware goes bad. We are saying that if a PC is running much much slower then past performance, hardware is not the first area to look into. Matter fact, it should be the last step once you have picked the low hanging fruit.

tfletch1829
tfletch1829

Please show me the those links.... Thank you!!!!

mscoulter
mscoulter

If you have a recently purchased motherboard or computer, by all means, check for updates and flash that BIOS while still under warranty. However, the BIOS is not likely to be the cause of a system slowdown later on. Once out of warranty, flashing the BIOS should be a last resort because you run the risk of ruining the motherboard beyond repair.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

I just feel that performing a procedure that might irreparably damage the system should be left till last. This is with the knowledge that the update does not have any ties to system slow downs and only will refresh/update the code on the chip.

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