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My windows (XP) hard drive grinds a lot and it negatively affects the performance of other applications.

I have plenty of RAM and have already verified that this hard drive activity is not page file swap activity. I have also already looked in task manager to see if only one or two processes are active but I have found no smoking gun.

What tools can I use to directly determine what application or feature of the OS is causing the hard drive activity?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Process Explorer. Make sure you show the columns that contain the I/O activity.

Sometimes you may see a process running multiple services that causes the activity. In that case, it requires a bit of guesswork.

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If the sound is new (i.e. a change from the past) it may indicate a worn bearing or other mechanical problem with the drive.

In that case, run-don't-walk to obtain a new drive and a transfer everything over pronto. The time to total failure from the onset of symptoms is not predictable.


Jeff's point is well taken. Not being a windows person, I don't know the tools, but other posters seem to have that well in hand. Here is a heuristic: If you can generate this behavior on an otherwise quiescent system by opening a medium sized document in notepad, you should be very worried indeed.

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I'm not sure if that's what the OP was referring to (I think he meant regular, heavy hard drive activity). But it is true -- ANY unusual sounds from a hard drive mean you should PANIC and start backing up immediately –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '09 at 16:19
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And while you're running to the store to get the new hard drive, you could run smartmontools (smartmontools.sourceforge.net) to see if there's actually a problem with the drive. I watched one drive "rot" right in front of me - every day, there were a few more bad sectors. One day, it just wouldn't boot any more. (I had a replacement ready, but was curios as to how long it would last - it was just my boot disk, so there wasn't anything important on it.) –  chris Jul 26 '09 at 17:36
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SysInternals Process Monitor is a tool that can monitor HDD activity in real-time, showing you what files are being accessed. Be warned though, it can be a bit of a firehose and can take a bit of practice to get the hang of.

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Try DiskMon to see what drive activity is going on. It shows you both which programs are to blame and which files are involved.

Generally, all the tools from Sysinternals are great. I use Process Explorer often.

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Actually, DiskMon does not show process information (or file-system level information). FileMon does. –  Synetech Aug 8 '11 at 6:38
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