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Intermittent hanging, can't determine cause


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#1 tarnations

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Posted 05 April 2009 - 04:43 PM

Hi, everyone. I'm new to the forums.

For several months, I've been experiencing intermittent hanging, stuttering and general poor performance across all my software and the entire OS at once. This occurs even when the only active process is my antivirus software running idle in the background. I've made some upgrades and changes that have decreased the frequency of these slowdowns and shortened their duration, but they still occur regularly.

I'm using a Compaq Presario V5000 notebook with:
Win XP Home Edition, version 2002, SP3
AMD Sempron 3300+ processor
1.99 GHz, 1.87 GB of RAM

My antivirus program is Webroot Antivirus with Antispyware. It is up to date and is not detecting any problems with my system. This program hogs up a fair share of memory when running idle, but it does have a low memory setting that disables some shields. When this setting is activated, I will still have the intermittent sluggish periods.

Here's the peculiar thing. If I'm watching the task manager like a hawk when the computer goes from normal to sluggish (which I have done), the CPU usage will spike about an additional 30%-40% and stay up there for the duration of the slow period. Yet, when I look at the processes list, none of the processes exhibit a spike in memory consumption. No new processes appear, either. The processes list appear to be pretty stable. After about 2 or 3 minutes of stuttering, the system will go back to normal for about 15 or 20 minutes, then repeat the cycle.

I've made two recent upgrades which improved the situation slightly. The first is that I upgraded my memory to the maximum of 2GB. The second is that is started using the memory management utility CleanMem. Since making these changes, the slow periods are shorter and farther apart, but still completely annoying. My machine is useless for playing Mp3s, for example, because even with no other programs running, the music will skip for a few minutes every 20 minutes or so.

Finally, I should add that this has been going on for about 9 months, and about two months ago, I completely formatted the hard drive, reinstalled Windows XP (and fully updated it) and reinstalled only the software I use regularly (Firefox, MS Word, MS Excel, Webroot Antivirus, Nero and a very light-duty desktop Mp3 player).

I also have a HijackThis log, but since this isn't the designated place for those, I'll hang onto it for now until someone asks for it.

Anybody got a guess as to what the problem is? Thanks in advance!

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#2 Budapest

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Posted 05 April 2009 - 09:02 PM

Have a look in the Event Viewer for any errors at the time you experience these problems.

To open the Event Viewer go to Start > Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Event Viewer. Alternately, go to Start > Run and type in "eventvwr.msc" (without the quotes) and press Enter.

Check in all the categories.

If you find an error that occurred at the time right-click on it and select properties. Copy the information in the window and post it back here. This will help us diagnose your problem.

How To Use the Event Viewer
The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven't got it.

—George Bernard Shaw

#3 tarnations

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 11:17 AM

Thanks for the idea, Budapest. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), after going through several stuttering periods, I couldn't find any events in the Event Viewer that occurred during these periods. I did scan through everything, though, looking for errors or failures that I couldn't really explain. A few of the warning events that occur regularly are side effects of my memory management utility, and they're explained in the readme for that little program. Many of the errors referred to processes that failed to launch because I have disabled all of my startup programs while trying to work on this problem.

Then there's this one, which I can't tie directly to a point in time when the computer hangs, but which I didn't expect to see:

\Device\ACPIEC: The embedded controller (EC) hardware didn't respond within the timeout period. This may indicate an error in the EC hardware or firmware, or possibly a poorly designed BIOS which accesses the EC in an unsafe manner. The EC driver will retry the failed transaction if possible.

One peculiar thing I've noticed while watching the task manager during the slow periods is that, when the computer stutters, the CPU usage graph usually exhibits the same behavior: the line spikes up and down rapidly between roughly 50% and roughly 15%. Yet, there are other times when the line can spike up to 90% or so and even stay there for a little bit, and I won't experience the slowdown. During the choppy periods when the needle is jumping up and down very quickly, System Idle Process is still taking up the lion's share of the CPU in the processes list. The only other active programs that ever pop up as taking a share of the CPU on the processes list during choppy periods are Firefox, sometimes my desktop Mp3 player and usually the Task Manager itself. But if I reboot the computer with no startup programs and never launch anything but the task manager, I'll still get the same CPU behavior and the same stuttering. Meanwhile, 96%-100% of the CPU will still be designated as System Idle Process in the processes list for the duration of the slow period.

Could it be that my processor is just too underpowered?

#4 Budapest

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 04:28 PM

The System Idle Process is just a count of the amount of unused CPU, so if the System Idle Process is high that is a good thing.

Try using the AutoRuns utility, which is a kind of more powerful Task Manager, to see if you can identify anything that is hogging your CPU.

Also, you might want to try some generally housekeeping type things like deleting temp files, degrag and chkdsk.
The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven't got it.

—George Bernard Shaw

#5 tarnations

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 04:56 PM

Thanks again, Budapest. I'll try Autoruns right now. As for general housecleaning, disabling startups, scanning, etc., I've been johnny on the spot with maintenance the last several months. It's all I can do to keep it running as well as it does, which isn't great.

Here's something new I just discovered, though. Since I have a history of being functionally imbecilic when it comes to the technical side of these machines I rely on for both my livelihood and entertainment, I have to learn things that should be fairly obvious. One of these things I've learned today is that my issues could be caused by a slightly overheating CPU.

So I downloaded the CPU temperature monitoring utility SpeedFan, and it says my CPU is chilling out around 52-56 degrees Celcius most of the time. But when my system slows down, it shoots up as high as 62, although it stabalizes at something more like 58/59 on the high end. Still, I've found that this happens pretty reliably during the slow spurts.

Is my machine overheating? If so, what kind of aftermarket fixes can I try other than getting one of those clunky cooling platforms to set my laptop on?

I'll come back with anything I dig up through Autoruns. And, again, THANK YOU for your expertise. If only the geeks I count among my personal friends were so generous with their time.

#6 Budapest

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 05:21 PM

If you think overheating is a problem get a can of compressed air and thoroughly blow out the computer's vents.
The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven't got it.

—George Bernard Shaw

#7 craz

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Posted 11 April 2009 - 10:59 AM

This seems to be the very problem I have. I too have stripped off all the stuff I don't use, done virus and spyware scans, etc. Let me know if you have any success with the venting. I notice my Acer laptop seems to get warm too, and I am going to try and clear the vents now!




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