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We have installed several machines running Windows Vista at a client site. These machines run the same set of applications each day and are not operated with by any user. They mainly run a 3D application for digital signage purposes.

After a few months I noticed that several machines suffer from really bad stuttering. The performance is unacceptable.

At first I figured it was faulty hardware. But after putting a fresh image on them, they run perfectly fine again.

These are Core i7 machines with GTX 280 graphics adapters. They should be able to handle the workload without any trouble (and they do, at least for a while).

I really have no idea how to track down the source of this issue. Especially since not all of the machines display the same issue.

A little more information about the setup: The 3d application we are running has internal meters that show cpu/gpu load and system/graphics memory usage. All meters are well below critical thresholds. Which just adds to the confusion.

All machines are on a network separate from the other user desktops used at that location. That network has it's own Windows Update Service server and all updates are reviewed before they are applied. Because the machines have no internet access and user interaction is not possible, they don't run any virus scanners.

The poor performance is permanent. The 3d application starts right after the system has booted and will show low frame rates right from the start and never recovers.

The machines are Shuttle SX58H7 barebones with the following hardware installed:
CPU: Intel Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz
RAM: 3x2GB Kingston ValueRAM DDR3 @ 1066MHz
HDD: Western Digital WD3202ABYS HDD
GFX: BFG Nvidia GTX 280
OS: Windows Vista Business x64

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Switch to Linux, problem solved... More seriously, it may have something to do with them heating up over a period of time and then cooling off while you reinstall the system. – marcusw May 10 '10 at 21:18
The problem persisted between reboots and after re-installation they run fine for several days. Temperature is not the issue. – Oliver Salzburg May 10 '10 at 21:35
Think about disk-fragmentation. Vista logs some events in eventlog, look for truncate them on a regularly basis - may be that helps. – Ice May 10 '10 at 21:52
Were these machines built by yourself is it a branded like a Dell or something like that ? You haven't mentioned your full system specifications ( ie: Motherboard/chipset,PSU, RAM type and speed, et al). Please do update your question with these details. Maybe there's a bug in the BIOS causing slowdows or insufficient power being delivered – Sathya May 11 '10 at 2:11
up vote 1 down vote accepted

There was a recent bug in a MS patch. Open Task manager and enable showing all processes. Then look to see if svchost is eating up lots of CPU. If so, then you are being effected by the Audio Driver bug. You can Google for some suggested fixes (they didn't work for me, but might work for you).

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I'll look into it. Thanks so far. – Oliver Salzburg May 10 '10 at 23:18

Since the OP says the machines "are not operated with by any user" I discard virus/antivirus and so on.

  • Disk Fragmentation can be an issue. Specially if they store large amounts of data.
  • It's possible that some update affect our specific hardware.

Vista has a performance monitor. Go there and check event viewer (Administrative tools > event viewer); try to find something wrong.

If you look carefully, you'll find some clue.

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Are there any specific logs I should inspect? There is an overwhelming amount of different service logs. – Oliver Salzburg May 10 '10 at 23:09
Go to Control Panel > Performance and Information tools Check on left column the last option "Advanced Tools" When you go there will have several options to check for performance, including direct link to Event Viewer where performance details are given. There's also a "Generate system health report". Question: Does your vista machines have service pack 2 installed? – Melvyn May 11 '10 at 1:47

I would check for the following:

  • Viruses
  • AntiVirus scanners can sometimes run at apparent idle times
  • Defraggers
  • Downloading or installing in the background microsoft updates
  • Could there be other services running in the background that are not needed?
  • Indexing - since people don't use the machine, turn off indexing

Have you looked at task manager when this is going on?

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There could definitely be unneeded services. Indexing is most likely active. I will check if that has any impact on the issue. Keep in mind though, all systems are installed identically and some of them are just fine. – Oliver Salzburg May 10 '10 at 23:08

Could the 3d application itself be writing something to the disk that could cause the application to stutter? Like keeping a large log file or debug info? Do all the machines do exactly the same thing or are they serving up different content?

Have all the machines done this at one point or another or does it stick to a specific subset of machines?

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The 3d application itself should not be the cause, but we are in contact with the developers to get their input on the issue. The machines do server up differing content inside the 3d application. But the "empty" application already stutters when there is not even content loaded. It's a specific subset of machines. – Oliver Salzburg May 11 '10 at 18:32
if you swap a hard disk from a "good" machine and put into the specific subset of machines, would the problem follow the harddisk or the machine? – Knox May 11 '10 at 23:33
We didn't try actually swapping disks, but when re-installing a machine with the issue from a fresh image, the problem disappears (most likely not forever, but we're still observing). – Oliver Salzburg May 17 '10 at 12:45

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