Bless you! That's a lot to digest, but it is great and useful information. Hopefully, others will see this post in the future and it will end up solving more problems than just mine.
Also, this is an older 32bit system. And the RAM which was causing these problems was four sticks of OCZ PC 3200, EL Dual CH Platinum Edition. 2 sticks of 1024mb 2-3-2, and 2 sticks of 512mb 2-2-2-5 (whatever those numbers mean).
Ok, for the sake of experimentation, I swapped out all the RAM for some older RAM which was previously in the computer. The only reason I'd upgraded, was to get an extra Gig's worth, 2gb vs 3. So today, I put the old 2gigs worth back in (four sticks), and whalla....problems gone!
You were absolutely right!
All the other methods for locating problems are great to know, I'll be storing them away for future problems. But, as with anyone who still has a computer running XP, it's about time to deal with the funeral home. Time to prepare the eulogy, choose flowers, and pick out a good final resting place.
Incidentally, and in order to help you verify some of the theories you had, all of this began after my yearly computer "blow out", in which I take the computer outside, start up an air compressor, and blow out all of the dust which has accumulated. Never been a problem before, yet this time problems started as soon as I re-started after the cleaning. My theory, is that the water inherent in the stream of air from a consumer air compressor damaged something. What it damaged, I had no idea at the time, but it was clear when it happened because nothing was the same again.
I should add, this was my old computer I am talking about. It’s the one which this bad RAM came from. And with it, all the same problems were transferred to this backup computer.
Anyway, that first computer ended up dying. Or at least, something bad happened to the C drive, and it is unreadable now. Sounds a lot like what you just described about the “page file”. The drive still spins up, but cannot be read. So I assumed it was not a physical/mechanical problem. Also, I attempted to “see” the data on that dead drive by connecting it externally to another computer and using recovery software. And as far as I could tell, it was all there. It just couldn’t be accessed through normal means (most all of this is very new to me, but it's been a crash course). However, the data recovery program was just a trial version, I wasn’t going to spend a hundred dollars for something which might not even be related to the issue. But, as mentioned, it was able to see all the data on that dead C drive, and it was all there, looking just as it did when it was healthy. So I can only assume that after buying the full version of the recovery software (R-Studio), I can get it all off.
So in short, one might theorize that blowing out the computer somehow managed to damage (but not destroy) one or more of the RAM sticks, which appeared to still be working, but they began causing problems. Then later, they managed to corrupt the C drive somehow. Sound plausible?
Again, by listing all of this tedious data, perhaps it might benefit someone in the future who does a Google search and finds this thread.
Lastly, to anyone blowing out their computer as I used to do, with a small air compressor made for air tools and light paintwork, don’t do it! I later found out that all compressors of this type have a problem with moisture. After all, you are condensing many cubic yards worth of atmosphere into a tiny chamber, along with all the moisture which was in those many cubic yards, which then ends up blowing out of the nozzle. They sell a “water trap”, which you mount between the hose and the nozzle, but it’s hardly 100% efficient, and some droplets of water still fly out. I had that water trap attached, but foolishly, I never assumed such tiny and infrequent micro-droplets (it really is an incredibly small amount) could do any damage. After all, the computer is unplugged, right? I figured if any water did end up flying into the computer, it would evaporate long before I re-started the computer over an hour later. Well, apparently not.
At least, that’s one theory. But something definitely happened during that last blowout.
To be safe, I’d suggest anyone reading this buys one of those fan-based blowers. No moisture released through those, and they are cheaper than an air compressor. I can’t remember the name or manufacturer, but they are available at Amazon for around $60, if memory serves. They are black, and look like a slightly over-sized black soup can, with a handle on the back, and an extended nozzle. I believe they make several different models, some of which are used for drying motorcycles and cars, if that helps searching for it. But the stream of air it produces is as strong, or nearly as strong, as what I got from the fairly expensive air compressor. Plus, they are far easier to use. Hope this helps someone in the future.
Or, you could simply buy compressed air cans. But those don’t last long, and end up being rather expensive if you have a lot of dust.
But back to the topic, thanks a lot for your help.
And yes, what you said about troubleshooting being a process of elimination is a lesson that all noobs like me need to follow. A short while ago, I had a problem which was baffling all the people on forums. I think I had two or three fairly experienced individuals offering solutions, and they were all over the place. Some, thought it was due to data corruption. Others, thought it might be a dying hard drive. Still others thought it might be a voltage issue with the power supply. Weeks of this never-ending testing took place. Voltages were checked, diagnostic programs were run, it was crazy.
But in the end,
…it was due to nothing more than a cord which had come unplugged.
Following your “Simplest things first” approach would have saved an enormous amount of time. As soon as the cord was re-attached, everything returned to normal. Silly silly me.
I guess that’s it for now. Hopefully there won’t be any more problems until the new system is up and running, and XP will (sadly) be a memory. A shame too, I cannot stand the look of the new operating systems. We are creatures of habit, I guess.
May karma smile upon you for all your help!