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It is very common on my windows xp machine for windows explorer (including taskbar) to be frequently unresponsive for several seconds (and sometimes up to a minute) any time I am browsing the file system (or using the start menu). This can get a bit frustrating....

I suspect it may be due to some network access thing happening but I am not sure of this, or what apps/services could be contributing to the problem. Is there a way to find out exactly what windows is doing (or trying to do) during these freezes so I can narrow down the search a bit?

I am not after a list of things to try as I have been through many of these (e.g. defrag, network drives, etc etc) - but nothing seems to fix the problem. What I am really after is a way to diagnose (or debug) what is happening so it doesn't just become a guessing game of "try these 100 different things and see what happens". But maybe this is not possible?

UPDATE: Window's "Performance Monitor" perfmon seems the best approach so far for diagnosing such problems (thanks JP for the pointer) - but I am still struggling to use it in a successful way mainly due to the overwhelming number of options it provides. I have made some educated guesses at the things to monitor but so far the best information I can glean is that the following processes have unusual CPU/Data IO/Page faults during a freeze: cssrs,lsass and explorer. Since these are very standard windows processes I am not sure if this helps narrow down the cause much.....Any further advice?

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Try my answer here to troubleshoot freezes. –  Tom Wijsman Feb 25 '11 at 23:30

3 Answers 3

I think your best methodology is to take a tool like Process Explorer and try to link the freezes to a particular process. That is, what process is on the CPU when the problem happens? You should start by clearing out as many non-essential processes as possible and have your system running lean (perhaps even safe mode, no network or external drives) and see if the problem still happens. If it does not, then you can add back processes one at a time and see if you can isolate the culprit. If it happens in safe/lean mode, you have a deeper problem and can start with the things that are actually running in that mode.

Per comment: You could use perfmon and add CPU and Network usage to be tracked and have perfmon log over time. That way, when you have a freeze, you could go back and look through the perfmon logs at the time and see if you can correlate anything.

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Thanks - I have pretty much tried that with procexp (including removing processes - but the problem is so intermittent it is never clear if the critical process has been removed). The problem is that it is not clear from just visually scanning procexp output that any process is doing anything unusual (e.g. CPU all looks "normal"). I wonder if there is a more clever way that procexp can be used to diagnose low-CPU freezes (e.g. network processes)? –  luapyad Jul 26 '09 at 0:40
    
Using perfmon sounds like a good idea - am checking it out now. –  luapyad Jul 26 '09 at 2:24

Just use ProcMon (Process Monitor) to examine the events. Filter by explorer.exe and then category network. A quote from Mark Russinovich:

When troubleshooting a hang with Process Monitor, you should first see if there are any gaps in operation time stamps that match the hang duration. You can look for lengthy operations by adding the Duration column to the display and then making sure to filter out operations that commonly don’t immediately complete, like directory change notifications. That can be useful when you don’t see a significant time gap between operations because the process has multiple threads, some of which continue to operate while the one causing the hang is dormant.

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Are you running any sort of anti-virus? I find that McaFee, for example, will cause the machine to exhibit exactly those symptoms - freezing, annoying pauses, but little or no CPU usage. You can try pausing the process, but that may make the entire systems freeze if you suspend the wrong thing.

Also check for disk errors, take a look at http://smartmontools.sourceforge.net/ to see if there are problems with the disk itself.

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