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Replaced hard drive, now Dell laptop constantly hangs


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#1 Frowenat

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Posted 15 June 2013 - 02:15 PM

Hello.  I posted about a month ago when my 13-month-old Dell Inspiron N4110 was stuck in a startup repair loop.  It needed a new hard drive, which I installed myself, and everything worked great for a couple weeks. Then the constant freezing started. I thought it was Firefox, since that was what I was using most often, but it turned out that *everything* would eventually start hanging--Word, Task Manager, iTunes; it even froze on shutdown a couple times. I tried disabling and reinstalling all the plugins in Firefox, I ran virus scans and diagnostics and troubleshooters and chkdsk, and no issues were ever found--until, I think, I downloaded Microsoft .NET framework when a Dell diagnostic tool asked me to.  And finally the constant freezing stopped.

 

But then it started again a couple days ago. The computer starts up fine, but within a few minutes it will start hanging regularly--like every 30 seconds, the cursor either won't move or clicking on something gives me a "(Not Responding)" message at the top of the window.  This lasts anywhere from 5 seconds to a few minutes.  When I open Task Manager, the CPU usage fluctuates wildly (when Task Manager itself isn't frozen)--it's usually at around 30-60%, but will rise all the way to 99% and then down to 0%.  This is when I just have one or two programs running--Firefox and Word--and I don't have many startup programs, nor a lot of programs or files on the computer in general. Once again, all the Windows, Dell, Malwarebytes, and Avast scans find no problems, and everything is apparently up to date.

 

I did just disable Flash Player in Firefox after noticing there were two Flash processes running in Task Manager; that has actually made it a little better, but it's still frozen a couple times while I've been writing this post.  Can anyone give me any ideas about what might be causing this and how I can fix it?  I'm not sure what other information you might need about the computer, but here's what I know: it's a Dell Inspiron N4110 running a clean install of Windows 7 64-bit; I just installed a new Western Digital hard drive (500 GB 7200 RPM).  Thanks!


Edited by Frowenat, 15 June 2013 - 02:15 PM.


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#2 sflatechguy

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Posted 15 June 2013 - 04:09 PM

Can you boot into safe mode? http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/Start-your-computer-in-safe-mode

Try running the computer for a while in safe mode and see if the problem continues. If it doesn't, it may be a problem with one or more of your drivers. When you installed the new hard drive, did you use the Dell install CD or just a generic Windows 7 CD? Dells use very specific drivers and it's best to install the OS using one of their install disks.

You may want to try a clean boot and performing some diagnostics. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/929135

It's hard to say at this point what it could be -- this kind of behavior usually indicates an issue with driver and/or system files not loading properly and hogging all the processor bandwidth.



#3 AngryRaisin

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Posted 15 June 2013 - 10:54 PM

Pretty much same questions as above: was this a new hard drive that you purchased? And how did you install windows on this drive?



#4 Frowenat

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Posted 16 June 2013 - 10:40 AM

I installed Windows 7 and Dell's drivers with Dell CDs on my new hard drive; I requested them when the original hard drive died and Dell sent them the next day.  Weirdly, it's been working fine since last night--I booted into safe mode to test it, then started Windows normally, and I haven't had any hang-ups since. Will the "clean boot" help pinpoint the conflict if the freezing returns?  While I don't have that many programs installed, I'm not sure which ones were disabled in safe mode or how to figure out which one was the culprit from there. (I'm only computer savvy enough to google computer problems and then follow instructions.)  I *really* don't want to have to wipe everything and reinstall, but I guess I will if I have to!


Edited by Frowenat, 16 June 2013 - 10:43 AM.


#5 sflatechguy

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Posted 16 June 2013 - 11:20 AM

Yes, it appears safe mode shut down the process that was running amok. Pay close attention to which programs you open from now on --if it does come back, a clean boot will help to identify what the problem process or service is. If you scroll down that page, there are instructions on how to run the diagnostics after the clean boot. It may not be one of your applications itself that is the problem -- it looks like it's a process or service the program needs to have running in the background when you are using it that is causing the issue. Clean boot, follow the instructions, and that should help pinpoint it if it returns.



#6 AngryRaisin

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Posted 17 June 2013 - 05:27 AM

Safe mode is a mixed bag - it disables everything that is not essential - it even loads a different low impact display driver.  So you can't really tell if is a hardware problem or a software problem in safe mode - it just gets you to a point where you can look at things and change settings.  A general rule is that if you can boot safe mode with networking and browse around the internet without problems / keep the computer running (like actually use it without freezing) - that problems may lie with one of the third party software startups or the third party drivers.

 

It is up to you whether you use something like msconfig or autoruns and carefully disable startups and/or drivers to pinpoint a problem or carefully do a clean install or just the OS and drivers.

 

The pitfalls of clean installs is that most people will NOT test once they have done a clean install. They will immediately go and get every windows update and attempt to load all the software that they previously had loaded - and will come to point where the computer is freezing but they have installed several programs and updates and are unable to pinpoint an exact cause.

 

AutoRuns and msconfig are just as much fun because they present you with a bunch of check boxes and very little guidance.

 

Which ever way you choose try to remember what you have changed (document it... create before changes logs) or image your computer with something such as ghost or true image.


Edited by AngryRaisin, 17 June 2013 - 05:53 PM.


#7 Frowenat

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Posted 24 June 2013 - 09:51 PM

Hi again--

Well, the problem came back, as I suspected it would, so I tried a clean boot.  And things were fine for a long time, and I was about to start trying to narrow down which program was causing the problem when . . . yes, it came back.  What now?  It's still in "clean boot" mode with all the nonessential background programs stopped, yet any program I use eventually starts hanging and stuttering and becomes impossible to deal with; my CPU usage is still highly erratic, jumping up to 99% even with background programs stopped and only 10 processes running in task manager. Again, none of the diagnostic scans have indicated a hardware issue (they haven't indicated any sort of problem at all, actually), and I have no idea how to narrow this down any further!  Does anyone have any ideas about what the next step should be?



#8 sflatechguy

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Posted 24 June 2013 - 11:14 PM

Did you run the steps in "How to determine what is causing the problem by performing a clean boot"? at the bottom of the link http://support.microsoft.com/kb/929135 ? If you did, and you're still having these issues, you might want to check your RAM. How much system memory is installed? You may want to run some memory tests on it to ensure it is all working properly: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/Diagnosing-memory-problems-on-your-computer

You can also try enabling write caching. Click Start, then Control Panel>System and Security, select Device Manager. Expand the Disk Drives option, right click on the hard drive icon and select Properties. Check the boxes for Enable write caching on a disk and Enable advanced performance.

Lastly you could try disabling indexing if you have it enabled.. Go to Computer, right click on  the hard drive, select Properties. In the General tab, uncheck the Allow files on the drive to have contents indexed option.

Report back on what happens, and include info on any error messages you are getting.



#9 Frowenat

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 11:41 AM

Thanks for the reply!  I was about to run the steps at the bottom of that link when the problem suddenly returned, which--and keep in mind I'm pretty clueless here--made me think that the problem wasn't one of the programs/services that had been disabled with the clean boot.  In other words, all I had running were the Microsoft services that you're supposed to hide before hitting "disable all" (plus my antivirus), and I certainly don't know enough about those to determine which I could disable without making the whole system malfunction.  Should I go ahead and run those steps anyway--enable half the services that were disabled by the clean boot and when the problem returns start disabling the services again one by one?  (And is that a good summary of what those steps are?  I'm confused as to why you're supposed to check half the disabled services as the first step; why not start by checking one and go from there?  I have a feeling this isn't supposed to be confusing and I don't know why I don't totally get it.) 

 

The memory diagnostic detected no problems.  I have 6gb of RAM; I know I could add 2 more gb, but it ran perfectly for a year with 6gb and all the same programs and drivers I have now (before the hard drive died).  It did just occur to me, though, that the original hard drive was 5400 RPM while the new one is 7200 RPM; could that cause a problem?

 

I haven't tried enabling write caching or disabling indexing yet, but I'm about to.  I assume I should probably startup normally first, though, since I'm still in selective startup/clean boot?



#10 sflatechguy

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 02:30 PM

What program did you use to clone the hard drive? Best practice is to clone to an identical drive. Speed shouldn't be that big an issue, but it does indicate the drives aren't identical. Are they the same manufacturer? Do they have the same amount of storage? This could be part of the issue. Some cloning programs won't handle it properly, others may require extra steps to ensure there are no issues afterwards.

The reason you want to start disabling half the services is because doing them one by one would take forever. Yes, follow the steps anyway. Although we should probably clarify the hard drive/cloning software issue before you proceed with this step.



#11 Frowenat

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 05:18 PM

I didn't clone the drive; I managed to save my most important files to a flash drive, and that's it.  Both the new and the old HD have the same amount of storage, 500 gb. I can't remember the manufacturer of the old drive, but the new one is Western Digital. Thanks!

 

ETA: By the way, write caching was already enabled, but I didn't see a check box to Enable advanced performance. I did disable indexing on the drive only.  As for the clean boot diagnostic, I see now that there are steps to follow for disabling startup and Microsoft services if none of the nonessential services are causing the problem--oops, I didn't see those steps before; I'll do them now.


Edited by Frowenat, 25 June 2013 - 07:20 PM.


#12 sflatechguy

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 06:42 PM

My apologies -- that's what I get for trying to reread the posts and respond while doing three other things. :huh: 

Try the diagnostics and see if you can locate the rogue service, then try the other steps I outlined. Don't think that you need to add more RAM; Windows 7 will run just fine on 4GB of RAM, so you have more than enough.

If we can isolate the service that is causing the problems, that will help determine if we can fix it, or if we need to reinstall a driver or the OS. Please post any error codes you get or have been getting.



#13 Frowenat

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Posted 26 June 2013 - 02:50 AM

Oh, don't worry about it!  I'm in the middle of running step 2g in the clean boot diagnostic--enabling/disabling programs in the Startup tab.  It's going to take a while, because I've noticed that everything runs fine after I restart; the constant Not Responding only starts after an hour or two of constant use.  I'm not sure whether that might indicate something useful.  I'll certainly come back when I'm finished, whenever that is (for some reason I'm convinced that it's one of the Microsoft services, and eliminating those is *really* going to take a while). I'll take note of any error codes, although I still haven't received a single error message since the whole problem started.



#14 sflatechguy

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Posted 26 June 2013 - 04:27 AM

Without an error message, it's going to be hard to diagnose exactly what the problem is. Is there a certain program you are using when the problem starts, or is it random? All my research and experience tells me it's a corrupt program file or driver. The trick is indentifying which one, and getting your system to run properly until it is identified.

I even went back and read your old thread from when your other hard drive failed. This is clearly a different issue, but it makes me wonder if there isn't something hardware-related, like a malfunctioning port (USB or printer, for example) or something on the motherboard that may be contributing to the problems you are having with your hard drives.

When you installed the OS and the Dell drivers, did you encounter any problems, or did it go smoothly?



#15 Frowenat

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Posted 26 June 2013 - 01:56 PM

It went smoothly, although I'm not sure I installed the drivers in the correct order (I didn't find out there was a correct order until I'd already started--the Dell CD just showed all the drivers I needed to install and didn't say anything about the order).  But like I said, it ran perfectly for a couple weeks before the Not Responding started, and that even stopped for a while after I ran Dell System Detect (to see if my drivers needed updating) and it instructed me to install Microsoft .NET framework.

 

The three programs I've been using the most lately are Firefox, Word, and Adobe Reader, and I often have all three open at the same time (with multiple Word and Adobe docs open).  When the problem starts, it affects all programs--if I'm looking at a Word doc and it stops responding, I'll click on a pdf and it will stop responding too.  Task Manager, Windows Explorer--they all become intermittently unresponsive (Windows Explorer has stopped responding and restarted itself several times the past few days).  Frustrated, I try to restart the computer, but it gets stuck on the Shutting Down screen--I often have to press the button to get it to shut down.  When the laptop finally does restart, I can count on the problem being gone for an hour or two. 

 

If it's a hardware issue, could it have anything to do with the battery and/or power supply?  I'm trying to think of everything that strikes me as unusual, and one thing I've noticed is that it takes a little while for the computer to recognize the AC adapter and start charging when I plug it in.  It always recognized it instantly before.  I know the battery is certainly nearing the end of its life.

 

Is it possible, moreover, that the laptop could have a literal screw loose? I'm probably grasping at straws here, but getting to the hard drive on this thing was ridiculous--the whole thing needed to be taken apart, and I remember that the screws on the HD housing wouldn't tighten as much as I thought they should have.  (BTW, I watched a couple Youtube videos on how to take it apart--again, I'm only good at following instructions when it comes to computers, not figuring out stuff on my own.)  But everything worked fine when I started it up and that lasted for weeks, so I didn't think about it again.  I can't imagine why a loose HD would cause an intermittent Not Responding problem and not, you know, crashes or something more drastic, but I'm just looking for clues anywhere at this point.

 

Finally, after you mentioned USB ports I remembered that I had a tiny "nano receiver" for an external mouse plugged in, even though I don't use the mouse very often. I don't think it was plugged in for the first few weeks after I installed the hard drive when it was working fine--coincidence?  Could a little receiver for a Logitech mouse cause a problem like this? (I have unplugged it now, but I restarted the computer recently so I'll have to wait to see if the problem is gone or not.)

 

Anyway, I've gone through most of the programs on the Startup tab now and so far haven't found a culprit; the hanging eventually starts no matter what services are enabled or disabled.  I'd love to identify it before I have to deal with disabling Microsoft services.  At this point, would it be quicker to just wipe everything and reinstall the drivers and/or Windows?  Or throw this thing out of a speeding car and somehow find the money for a new laptop? I'm a grad student and I use this computer a lot, every day, to research and write my thesis, so both the problem and the testing are incredibly disruptive.  Thanks for your help so far!


Edited by Frowenat, 26 June 2013 - 01:57 PM.





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