How do I troubleshoot slow desktop computers running Windows XP

  • Amanda

    I maintain a small office of about 7 desktop computers running Windows XP, with a server running Ubuntu.

    On a monthly basis, I:

    • run CrapCleaner to clean out temporary files and fix registry issues
    • run Defraggler
    • backup their documents, email and Firefox profile to a RAID on the server
    • make sure all their Windows/Security/Antivirus/Antispyware software has the latest updates
    • check that extraneous programmes have not inserted themselves into the startup folder or msconfig startup sequence.

    These are all Dual or Quad core Intel machines that I have built myself, all with a minimum of 3GB of RAM.

    However, on a semi-regular basis, people in my office start whining that their machine is "slow".

    How do I troubleshoot a "slow" computer, and what more can I do in terms of regular maintenance?

    I really don't want to go to the effort of reinstalling these machines, especially when they come whining about every 2 or 3 months about "slow". I'm quite prepared to accept an annual WinXP reinstall but more often than that is just painful.

  • Answers
  • SmallClanger

    Ditto what SvenW says; the first thing to do is to try to get some more information out of them.

    • How long does it take to boot/login.
    • Is it unresponsive to simple commands (such as opening explorer windows or starting small applications) or does it take much longer to do bigger jobs than you'd expect?

    Ideally, get them to show you when it's being slow. For this purpose, try the following:

    • Download SysinternalsSuite:
    • Run procexp on the affected machine at the start of the day.
    • In View->Select Columns, check the following:
      • Process Memory: Private Bytes History
      • Process Performance: CPU History, I/O History, I/O Writes, I/O Reads, I/O Other
    • Then set View->Update Speed to 10 seconds.
    • Leave it running minimised and ask the user to call you when it starts to slow down (assuming it isn't always slow)

    You should then be able to see a potted history of the behaviour of the system. It's not certain you'll find the culprit, but it should be easy to spot an application or service that is thrashing the disk or eating all of the PC's RAM or CPU, by looking at the current values and the history graphs.

    One final note on Disk defragging: Try to keep 20-25% space free on the disk. This lets the drive perform at optimum levels and means the defrag will complete in a reasonably fast time. If they've got < 5% disk free, then no amount of defragging will help, the disk will churn horribly.

  • SvW

    It's sad bad true that many "slow computer" complaints are in fact only imagined, because people expect their computer to get slow over time since it is "common knowledge" that Windows will get slower all the time (and their spyware-laden home machines really do). But even if that is true it is good practice to make sure is it indeed a PEBKAC and that their is nothing else that really makes the system slow, maybe with the network connections or something like that.

    So, ask your users details: When did it start to get slow, is it slow only in with specific operations or in specific situation etc.etc. Even if you find that nothing is really wrong, this serves a very important purpose: The user will feel that he is been taken seriously and that you don't ignore him.

    Some other hints: I assume your users don't have admin rights on their boxes. If they do, you can expect real speed problems very soon because they will infect themselves with malware.

    Also, it might be a good idea to look into imaging software like TrueImage or something like that because it will make reinstalling from a known good state a very easy and fast operation.

  • pQd

    generic answers:

    • check what starts up together with the system. over time there'll be more and more of:

      • google chrom/earth updates
      • java updates
      • adobe flash/reader/shockwave updates
      • apple quick time updates
      • antivirus updates
      • what not updates...

      probably you dont need them all.. maybe you can install critical patches automatically [ even on a small scale - eg with wpkg ]. you can use autoruns to see what starts with the system.

    • some antivirus software can slow down your disk io; in general most of my frustration comes from slow io not cpu speed.
    • users might have unhealthily habit of running too much application at the same time; once in a while it's good to reboot or at least kill those 20 windows and 90 tabs of firefox/ie/chrome
    • do you use some network shares - eg mapped network drives? can it be that something is timing out or users try to use windows networking over slow/high latency link?
  • Vangel

    in my experience the lusers always whine, this is not a technical problem anymore friend. this is more of a people problem that you need to be clever to resolve.

    I have had similar experience as IT service delivery manager. And we really put a stop to needless whining through proper communication with managers and the users. More than often ( i am not saying this your case or generalizing, its just my case) these people were complaining as an excuse. Only few were genuine.

    technically - computers slow down due to heat and dust too. I hope that hardware mainteance was part of your plan too :)

  • B14D3

    I know that my solution isn,t best but i think it could give you some answers. If you have ubuntu server you can use it to set up cacti i and monitor your windows desktops via smnp.

    It gives you knowledge about cpu and memory usage, etc, and you be able to see is the whining justified.

    If you want reinstall your desktops more often you can use clonezilla server(in my work im reinstaling about 100 PC every month in one nigth :)

  • heroxbd

    It is said by the wise man that

    COMPUTER functioning speed is propotional to HUMAN brain speed in front of it.

    So the answer is their brain speed is too low :(

  • Related Question

    performance - How to troubleshoot slow Windows XP boot?
  • EMP

    I have a Windows XP x64 SP2 machine that used to boot up really quickly, but now takes a very long time. If I enable the /sos boot switch it gets to the bit where it says:

    2 system processors [8191MB memory]

    and it sits there for literally about 3-4 minutes before going into GUI mode. Another machine running Windows XP x86 SP3 has a similar issue.

    How do I troubleshoot this?


    It boots really quickly in Safe Mode, but not in "Safe Mode with Networking support". I tried the Process Monitor log, but unfortunately it doesn't help. The bulk of the time is between the very first two entries - system starting and smss.exe starting.

  • Related Answers
  • V. Romanov

    Microsoft's Process Monitor tool allows you to "capture" the boot process in a log file that can be later analyzed to reveal the exact points where your boot process isn't as fast as you want it to be. Then you can remove/play with the problematic processes or pinpoint-search the web for a specific solution.

  • Clay Nichols

    If it boots fast in Safe Mode (from F8, as mentioned above) try using Autorun Administrator (another great utility from SysInternals) . It's much better than MSConfig. It lets you save snapshots of your settings changes, do a Diff between them, etc. Much safer to disable stuff with this "undo" sort of capability.

  • Sean Earp

    Is the booting slow if you hit F8 and choose safe mode? If so, boot into safe mode and run MSCONFIG. Click on the Services Tab and disable everything that is not by Microsoft, and disable everything under the Startup tab. If it still boots quickly, enable a few items under MSCONFIG, reboot, and repeat until you find the culprit.

    There are some other useful suggestions in the following articles:

    If you want to dive very deeply into the problem, download Sysinternals Process Monitor (the successor to regmon and filemon). You can enable boot logging, and it will captures a trace of all file and registry activity that takes place during boot. Open up the trace in Process Monitor after it boots and see what exactly is happening during the periods of slow performance. You'll probably find that it is an out of date driver or antivirus program that is causing problems, and updating to the latest version will fix things for you.

  • Geoffco

    If you can't find the answer through exploring the host directly, try using a packet sniffer (wireshark, for example) to see what the client is trying to do over the wire.

    Often systems will slow down massively if they're trying to resolve a hostname and struggle to find the DNS server or the host itself. It'll sit there until each attempt to make contact times out. This can be a few minutes per attempt! In unix systems, DNS & NFS are two common culprits to slow booting. Find & fix the network problem and everything speeds up.

  • Matt Simmons

    I used to have this problem with machines that were attempting to get a DHCP lease. I do not know if this is a problem with XP.

  • CodeSlave

    I had a similar problem found there was some stuff you can do in the Group Policy editor (run gpedit.msc) to see what's going on.

    If you got to Console Root->Computer Configuration->Administrative Templates->System, you can update Verbose vs normal status messages to Enabled. You can also go to Console Root->Computer Configuration->Administrative Templates->System->Scripts and Enable run startup scripts visible. This will show you what's going on during the boot.