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A friend's Windows XP laptop has become extremely unresponsive over the last few days, taking over 30 seconds to open My Computer for example and a over a minute to open a locally stored Word document. I assumed that a process was consuming all the CPU but on looking in Task Manager, the CPU hovers around 10% while loading MS Word or performing other tasks.

Any ideas???

It's a fairly old computer - 2GHz P4 with 256Mb RAM but has been reasonably usable up to now.

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What was changed before the problem occurred? Was any new software installed? –  Tester101 Oct 5 '09 at 15:43
It turns out that Microsoft Security Essentials was installed a couple of days ago. I've just checked the system requirements which say a minimum of 1Gb of RAM. Will get him to install Avira instead and see if that fixes the problem. –  pelms Oct 5 '09 at 16:31
just out of curiousity: 1 GHz? AFIK, the slowest Willamette was clocked at 1.4 GHz. –  Molly7244 Oct 6 '09 at 10:38
I had the same problem when I installed Microsoft Security Essentials. Something was accessing the hard drive constantly (I mean the light never turned off), I disabled automatic updates and the problem stopped. I promptly uninstalled Security Essentials, and placed it in the crappy software category. –  Tester101 Oct 7 '09 at 19:20
@Molly. You're right, it was a 2GH P4. –  pelms Oct 10 '09 at 19:12

5 Answers 5

That could be caused by disk activity. Eventually the disk is getting bad, and the OS needs several retries to retrieve data from the disk.

Install a software that does SMART reporting (search for the SMART tag on superuser for several tools) and check if the disk reports anything bad.

Maybe 256 Mb RAM is not enough and the system is swapping a lot. Check with Process Explorer the I/O activity.

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Keep in mind that CPU usage by default doesn't show CPU used by the kernel. Select show kernel usage in the view menu of task manager.

However you could always try Process Monitor, which was a program written years ago and them bought by Microsoft. It's essentially a lightweight replacement for Task Manager, but it shows a LOT more detail.

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This is often caused by a virus. Check the machine.

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Heavy Internet access can also freeze the machine, such as some program desperately trying to call home to a non-existent web address.

Use TCPView for Windows to see which programs are connected to tcp/ip ports when the freeze arrives.

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If the CPU usage is "normal" then windows OS is waiting and timing out for something.
* It can be an earlier mapped drive, which is no longer available, OR
* an unavailable printer or locating available printer (Does it also take time to open cmd window ?).
* It could be that the driver mapping itself is taking time.
* Following link talks about searching for scheduled tasks on mapped drives. http://www.computing.net/answers/networking/slow-my-computer/5586.html

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