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I have a laptop that has a SSD for the operating system drive (Windows 10). I also have a 5400 RPM HDD as a second drive for storing downloads and documents (no applications installed on it).

Recently I have been seeing pauses in other applications while the HDD spins up. This is surprising to me as all applications are installed on the SSD. Can the HDD cause delays when no applications are installed on it? Does the operating system somehow pause to wait for the HDD to spin up?

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Whether you have any applications installed on it or not. Your system will access all drives at some point.

For whatever the system is calling for, even purely to acces volume information. If the HD is spun down, it will cause an IO delay whilst it has been spun up.

Try the below to check for processes using your hard drive.

How can I log my hard drive activity by program?

That way you may be able to see if the volume is being unnecessarily being access, that you would expect.

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Unfortunate, @webworm, a non-OS HDD could cause some performance issues to your system. My recommendation is to swap the SATA cable connecting the HDD and also try plugging it to a different SATA port on your motherboard. This happens because the system is trying to read the HDD and, if it's faulty or has a faulty connection, it would cause some performance downgrades.

I'd also advise you to test the HDD on another computer and see how it will behave there. You should also test the health and SMART status using the HDD's brand-specific diagnostic tool from the manufacturer's website or a third-party HDD diagnostic utility.

Good luck! Let us know how the troubleshooting is going! :)

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  • I'm downvoting this answer because it doesn't properly answer the question. There is no indication anything is wrong with the OP's system.
    – Daniel B
    Jun 17 '16 at 11:49
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If applications have, say, a recent files list, then they may test if they can still find those files before presenting the recent files list.

If those recent files are on a disk that takes some time to respond (e.g. it has to spin up) then there will be a delay as you experience.

Some programs let you clear the recent files list, but you may not want to do that.

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