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I woke up the other day to find that my Sony Vaio VPC wouldn't boot up after multiple attempts. After running a system diagnostic check using the built-in recovery partition that came with the laptop, I was informed by the report that my registry is corrupted. However with no further effort, Windows 7 booted up on the next attempt.

Now the OS boots up very quickly at this point. But after startup, the machine takes ages to do anything that might require accessing the HDD, e.g. browsing files, opening programs etc. Even right-clicking a folder to get to properties took about 10-seconds to get a response.

I took this opportunity to slowly but surely back-up my precious data, and am now prepared for the worst. I also ran cCleaner on the registry. The OS still starts up, but with no change to the performance.

I then ran a HDD diagnostic, which performed a funnel seek test (which it failed), a linear seek test (which it failed) and a random seek test (which it passed).

Oh and to confuse things further, I have another partition on the HDD running Backtrack 5. Which still boots up and operates as smoothly as tropicana.

The strange thing is, I had exactly this same terrifying issue about 3 months ago, but for some reason, the machine just fought through and began working again as normal.

Now I can think of a few possible causes.

  1. Bad/Broken sectors in the HDD. (In this case is there a fix?)

  2. A broken 'something' with the motherboard. (In this case, god help me.)

  3. Some kind of 'deep' corruption in the registry. (If this were the case a reinstall or repair may do the trick.)

  4. The most stealthy and pointless malware I've ever encountered. (Probably the best-case scenario, but doesn't seem too likely.)

So based on the information I've given what do you think could be my problem? Or is my HDD just toast?

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Determine who made the drive and grab their advanced diagnostic tool. This can run more tests possibly and usually allows multiple tests. Any built in diagnostic could discover other issues like MB. Have you attempted to scan the disk for malware without booting the OS? Rootkit could be there. Many anti malware tools have a way to make a bootable scan disk. –  Dave M Jan 16 '13 at 16:55

3 Answers 3

Definitely sounds like a dying hard drive. It's very possible that the Backtrack partition will run fine (because there's nothing wrong on that part of the disk...yet) and yet the Windows partition behaves as you've described.

Try running chkdsk /r from an Administrator command prompt (it'll tell you it needs to schedule it for the next reboot - let it do so and then reboot). This will try and fix any bad sectors and repair filesystem damage. It'll also give you a good idea just how far along the drive failure has progressed. If it's repairing tons of bad sectors, I'd replace the drive pre-emptively. I'm guessing based on the performance you're seeing it'll be pretty bad.

If chkdsk doesn't find much or only finds a couple of bad sectors (which can be fairly normal), then I'd proceed with trying a re-install of Windows. That's honestly your best bet - repairing a corrupted registry rarely works in my experience.

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Thanks for your help. I'll give chkdsk /r a try. –  Guy Joel McLean Jan 16 '13 at 17:14
    
Ok I tried chkdsk /r. It crashed at 21%... Then to my absolute horror when I rebooted after a hard-shutdown and skipped the next attempt at a disc-check, Windows booted-up fine and ran as smoothly as anything. For about an hour. After this time it reverted back to the slow performance that I've come to fear. It'll usually last an hour before this happens though, however if I attempt to run Microsoft word, the PC reverts to slow performance before this time. I haven't found any other programs with this effect. –  Guy Joel McLean Jan 18 '13 at 11:53
    
Try running chkdsk again. It's possible it repaired (actually, remapped) some hard drive sectors which is why you noticed it temporarily improve in performance. –  Isaac Dontje Lindell Jan 18 '13 at 19:17
    
However, even if chkdsk finds more bad sectors and manages to remap them, you're going to want to replace that drive. It definitely sounds like it's going south. –  Isaac Dontje Lindell Jan 18 '13 at 19:23

Bad/Broken sectors in the HDD. (In this case is there a fix?)

There is no permanent fix for this. There is a possible workaround where sectors get remapped to spare sectors (which should trigger automatically). However if the drive has failed sectors then it is likely dying and you want to backup your data as fast as possible.

Note that you can check this by reading the S.M.A.R.T. values.

A broken 'something' with the motherboard. (In this case, god help me.)

Test the drive speed on another computer. E.g. take the drive out, put it in an desktop (as second drive) or in an external USB or eSATA case and read all. If it is fast and error free then the problem is not the drive.

If you insert a spare drive in the laptop and it is equally slow/problematic then you know the problem is in the laptop (motherboard, connectors, whatever).

Some kind of 'deep' corruption in the registry. (If this were the case a reinstall or repair may do the trick.)

You can boot an other OS from a pen drive or a CDROM.

Read the drive. If that works fine/fast then you likely have a software problem.

The most stealthy and pointless malware I've ever encountered. (Probably the best-case scenario, but doesn't seem too likely.)

That can be checked in the same way as your last deep problem.

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Note that booting another OS from pen drive/CDROM won't tell you anything about the hard drive unless you do some sort of transfer (read/write). Most live disc operating systems don't touch the hard drive unless you tell them to. –  Isaac Dontje Lindell Jan 16 '13 at 16:46
    
Aye. Hence my "Read the drive". With that I mean "read all files or even all sectors. E.g. with ddrescue if=/dev/sda of=/dev/null bs=1M or a windows equivalent." –  Hennes Jan 16 '13 at 16:48
    
You're right...I read too fast! –  Isaac Dontje Lindell Jan 16 '13 at 16:50
    
Thanks for your explanations and I'll give them all a try. However do you know of a windows equivalent of "reading the drive"? –  Guy Joel McLean Jan 16 '13 at 17:13
    
A full check disk (chkdsk) should do it. However I am not sure how it handles errors. I know ddrescue is a variant of dd which is specifically modified to handle read problems. However copying all files (or filling the drive with data and then copying all files) should work for any OS that you are used to. –  Hennes Jan 16 '13 at 17:16

I just want to clarify your first two clues, and I can't impugn the advice you've received so far since it will help you rescue a dying drive.

Before declaring your drive dead, you're saying that Windows 7 boots normally, maybe even faster than you're accustomed to but after you're in Windows it works poorly, slow response and slowly especially when you right click something that would launch the properties menu like the appended example ?

And you've been using registry cleaners and optimizers ?

If the answer to those clarifying questions are yes, then are you familiar with Windows Shell Context Handlers and have you verified yours are reconciled ? For years, Windows has been afflicted by lousy performance when an installed application was removed but not adequately uninstalled and unregistered, especially applications that embed themselves as an option in the Explorer.exe right click / properties shell context menu. So right clicking a file, explorer.exe begins loading up all those menu options like "MakeAPdf" or Winzip and if it can't find those apps and executables, it surreptiously searches for it in the sense it grinds the drive trying to find it for you and without your notification.

Ever clicked on a shortcut .lnk file and told it is missing and asked if you want Windows to attempt to find it for you and then watched that roving flashlight obtusely grind the drive ? That is what happens when right click menu options are missing but it was in Windows2000 Microsoft stopped warning you and it would just keep you on hold while it searched and would fix it quietly.

Using Registry cleaners isn't being criticized by me, more so the fact Windows uses so many different places to intertwine applications and their relationships inside the system is becoming harder for tools to fix their intended errors.

If this sounds like it could be your problem, then post back for some tutorials from the community or me on how to manually fix this before engaging in the extensive drive rescue operations.

RightclickMenu?

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Thank you for your explaination. It was very informative. While it's worth a try, I only gave the right-click case as an example. Lot's of this occured slowly (such as the opening of programs as well). However, since attempting chkdsk /r, the very nature of the problem has changed. I will post it above in the comments. –  Guy Joel McLean Jan 18 '13 at 11:46

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