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My work laptop that I've had for about six weeks has suddenly become much more unresponsive. It is not generally slow, as when it is responsive, it's speed is comensurate with a Core2 Duo 2GHz with 2GB ram running VS 2010. The OS is Windows 7 Enterprise, and the anti-virus is ESET NOD32. That has been running since I got the machine, and since before the unresponsive breaks started happening.

The problem is that it often 'sticks', as if some very resource intensive background process is briefly running, and then it besomes responsive again. Task Manager doesn't give much helpful information, except to show that Firefox and Visual Studio are the top memory users, but even the VS CPU usage seldom goes over 10%, except during a build, but I'm not building while I'm coding. Firefox shows about 220MB ram, but mostly zero CPU, and VS shows around 320MB ram.

I suspect some process(es) are hogging other resources, such as network and or HDD. What tools and techniques can I use to help me find the cause of these frequent moments of unresponsiveness?

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I always suspect PC security software for these issues. Uninstalling it is a first step. Please post your Operating System – Moab Aug 13 '10 at 14:15
@Moab: Highly likely to be Windows, considering he references "Task Manager" and "Visual Studio". – Hello71 Aug 13 '10 at 14:41
See my edit to te 1st paragraph. I'm running Win 7 Enterprise and ESET NOD32 anti-virus. – ProfK Aug 13 '10 at 15:02
@ Hello71, yes but what version? XP, Vista, Windows 7? He did an edit and posted it – Moab Aug 14 '10 at 0:24
@ ProfKaos, if it is not Eset interfering, try this method to try and find the offending program or service causing – Moab Aug 14 '10 at 0:26
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The very first thing to do (always) is to go Event Viewer and to see the recent events. Some may give you a hint of what takes so much resources. For example, it can be a Windows Update which checked for new updates, or Outlook which started to rebuild or rescan something, or Windows itself which indexed new files or whatever else. (Note: it is obviously NOT Windows indexation, since it happens only when the PC is idle).

Then you can try Resource Monitor. To run it from Task Manager, open Performance tab, then click on Resource Monitor button at the bottom. This tool will give you an overview of how CPU, disk, network and memory are used, and may help to track down "instant" processes which are difficult/impossible to see in Task Manager.

Finally, check Task Scheduler. It may give you a hint about a task which took too much resources.

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Try Process Explorer. I've always find this program a nice replacement to the default Task Manager.

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