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A friend has asked me to help him out with a laptop that has begun to run incredibly slow. The machine previously worked efficiency but recently has become unbearable slow. The machine is a Toshiba Satellite M45 running Windows XP SP3.

Running the machine normally is almost impossible. Booting into safe mode takes an abnormally long time and performs poorly. The hard drive does not appear to be overly fragmented though I did run a disk defrag. Running chkdsk /r took over 14 hours to complete (I expected a long run just not that long).

Even after these basic steps the machine is still running slow. What are some other things that I should try? I am willing to repave the OS but wanted to make sure there weren't other options and realize if the problem is hardware related that a repave will have little affect.

System Specs

RAM:        448 MB
CPU:        1.50 GHz Intel Celeron
Disk size:  74.5 GB
Used space: 36.5 GB
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RAM? CPU? Disk size? used space? these are some little details we'd like to know in order to put your claims into some relation. also, did you check the event log for errors? please update your post, thank you. –  Molly7244 Dec 23 '09 at 22:39
    
@Molly am posting while away from the machine as I wanted to start a conversation. When I get home I'll update with the pertinent info. –  ahsteele Dec 23 '09 at 22:51
    
Why do you want to start a conversation on a question and answer site? –  random Dec 24 '09 at 3:18
    
In this instance conversation = communication. thesaurus.reference.com/browse/conversation –  ahsteele Dec 24 '09 at 6:15

8 Answers 8

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Check to see if the hard drive has reverted back to PIO mode instead of using DMA. In the device manager expand the "IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers" section, and check the Primary and Secondary IDE channels "Properties" dialog. On the "Advanced Settings" tab there is usually an indicator as to what mode the controller (and channel) are operating in, as well as a way to change it.

Be aware though, Windows will often fall back to PIO mode if it experiences something like 3 DMA errors in less than and hour or something like that. It could be an early warning sign of something else failing.

One other thing you could try that might give you another data point, if you have enough RAM in there you could try booting Knoppix with the "toram" option. If it runs like a champ, I think you can safely identify the storage system as the bottleneck.

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So under the Advanced section of Primary IDE Channel Properties I see that the Current Transfer Mode is set to PIO Mode. However the Transfer Mode option only lists DMA if available. What would cause the machine to be in PIO Mode? –  ahsteele Dec 24 '09 at 6:55
2  
So did some Googling and came up with this article (winhlp.com/node/10) which led to my solution. Ultimately, forcing Windows to re-detect the DMA settings did the trick. Forced re-detection by deleting the MasterIdDataChecksum and SlaveIdDataChecksum from the various drives underneath the registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Class\{4D36E96A-E325-11CE-B‌​FC1-08002BE10318} –  ahsteele Dec 24 '09 at 7:25

It sounds like your hard drive may be failing, because 14 hours is an awfully long time for chkdsk to run. How big is the hard drive? Did chkdsk find any bad sectors?

If chkdsk reported bad sectors, you need to replace it immediately. This is also probably the source of your slow performance, since hard drives remap spare sectors to replace bad sectors, increasing the number of seeks when you try to read from the remapped sectors.

To view the results of chkdsk: Click Start->Run Type EVENTVWR.MSC and click OK Click on Application in the left-hand side Click View->Filter Under Event Source, select Winlogon and click OK Double-click on the most recent Winlogon event in the right-hand side, and cycle through them if necessary

The chkdsk results should look like this:

Checking file system on C:
The type of the file system is NTFS.


A disk check has been scheduled.
Windows will now check the disk.                         
Cleaning up minor inconsistencies on the drive.
CHKDSK discovered free space marked as allocated in the
master file table (MFT) bitmap.
Windows has made corrections to the file system.

  39078080 KB total disk space.
  30504488 KB in 39117 files.
     14096 KB in 4772 indexes.
         0 KB in bad sectors.
    129664 KB in use by the system.
     65536 KB occupied by the log file.
   8429832 KB available on disk.

      4096 bytes in each allocation unit.
   9769520 total allocation units on disk.
   2107458 allocation units available on disk.

If you show 0 KB in bad sectors, you may still have remapped sectors. To check this, you need to download a program that can read the SMART diagnostic information stored in your hard drive. I recommend smartmontools and GSmartControl. At a glance, you can just check the "Failed" column under the Attributes tab.

There are several attributes that can warn you of impending doom, but the most obvious one is the Reallocated Sector Count. If this has a raw value higher than 0, that may explain your system's poor performance, because the drive has to perform extra seeks when reading blocks of data that span the remapped sectors (suppose the swapfile spans the remapped sectors--you'll probably hit them quite often). If the "Norm-ed value" is near or below the Threshold, your hard drive needs to be replaced.

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I think actually running the checkdisk might have fixed this problem for me. My laptop was slowing to a crawl even though there wasn't an indication of hard drive I/O activity. I ran the check disk, and it seems like I no longer slow down anymore. I think I found the log under the Wininit category rather than the Winlogon category, though. –  TGP1994 Jan 2 '13 at 16:21

blow out all the dust in the vents on the laptop and then put a home fan so that it blows directly onto or at least as close to the cpu as possible. It could be a heat issue. check that first to make sure it is not before messing with the harddrive.

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As Goyuix suggests, a Linux liveCD will give you a good indication. If the liveCD runs fast, then it's either a software issue of a storage problem. Try running benchmark software on your hard drive (HDTune or whatever you prefer), depending on the drive and connection, you should be getting 50+MB/s, if it's much lower then you've got HDD problems. It might also be worth checking for bad blocks on the disk as well.

If it is software, it's always worth running some AV scans as a first check (MalwareBytes is good). You should also check CPU/Memory usage, to make sure nothing's maxing out your machine. Windows can also get very slow when it gets down to a few hundred MB of free space on the OS drive; check it's got at least a few GB.

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Look for spyware / adware. I have run Spybot Search & Desroy on several friends computers exactly because they were running unbearably slow. Each time I found dozens of spyware and adware / crapware programs installed. Spybot has always done a great job of removing these and the normal speed has come back. I in one case I also found a virus. I googled for a method to remove the virus and had her renew her Norton AV subscriptions which were about 18 months out of date.

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I'd suggest running malwarebytes, and run an offline AV as well. Eww to norton though. It tends to affect system performance adversely, and there's plenty of free AV products - my current favourite is microsoft system essentials but given a choice most of my systems had AVG or avast before that. –  Journeyman Geek Dec 24 '09 at 0:11
    
I agree on NAV. I used to like the Symantec products very much, then Perter Norton left, and well .... She already had it, and she liked it so I did not see any point in arguing that with her. –  Beaner Dec 24 '09 at 1:11

Further to what Goyuix says, I had a Dell laptop which had reverted to PIO mode. I first clued in on this when I realized that the HD access light was flashing almost continuously, even when the computer wasn't doing anything. Apparently this can be caused when the HD and the CD are sharing the same cable, and you try to use a bad CD which causes read errors.

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Unfortunately, there is no CD in the drive and it's not removable. –  ahsteele Dec 24 '09 at 7:04
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Sorry, I didn't explain clearly. I was never able to determine if a bad CD had caused the problem, it was just supposed to be the most likely cause. The problem was that the machine dropped into PIO mode and never went back to proper DMA mode. The solution, if I remember correctly, was to remove the HD from the device manager list (scary!) then reboot the machine. –  dsteele Dec 24 '09 at 18:47
    
That's essentially what I ended up doing by removing the Registry setting that related to the Current Transfer Mode. Thanks for the suggestion I am going to ask him if he was having problems with a CD when this issue started. –  ahsteele Dec 24 '09 at 20:01

. What does Event Viewer have to say? You did check it, didn't you?

Sounds to me like that machine is tripping over its own feet, i.e. it's running slowly because it has to check and recheck everything many times. This can be a symptom of a hard disk problem, a memory problem, or an overheating CPU.

Start by cleaning out the dust kitties and making sure the fan is running.

Download and run Memtest86 v4.2 from memtest dot org, not dot com, for memory testing.

Download and run Seatools for Windows from http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/support/downloads/seatools for disk testing.

Download and run Speedfan from http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php to see your internal system temperatures. Speedfan also has a good disk test.

Good luck! .

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Check Process Manager to see if something is eating up all your CPU cycles. Even Windows Update has been known to do that.

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