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erratic clock behaviour in Windows XP

I administer a Dell Dimension P4 desktop running Windows XP Pro, SP1. This computer, like 5 others on the same subnet, is acquiring an NTP/GPS time signal via Tardis Time Server (running as a service). Occasionally, but with increasing frequency, this system clock on this machine becomes uselessly erratic. This erratic behaviour seems to fall into one of two categories:

1.) the clock spins forward at a rate of 15 sysclock minutes: 1 real second.
2.) the clock spins backward at a rate of 5 sysclock seconds: 1 real second.

This computer runs client software for a 911 Emergency Dispatch CAD system, so the accuracy of the timestamp of data sent from this computer to the CAD server is fairly important for legal purposes. Obviously, the timestamp of the data sent from this problem machine is worthless when the clock is behaving this way - which, these days, is at least once a week. A reboot usually resolves the problem for a period, but since this machine needs to be on and operational 24/7 (911 dispatch business requirement), rebooting in the middle of a 911 call is not always an option.

I see one of 3 options:

1.) some sort of NTP clock-variation suppressing software, that suppresses variations in time above a certain threshold, say 500ms.
2.) install some sort of monitoring tool to see if there is some specific circumstance that might cause a clock to behave in this way.
3.) buy a new computer - not really a feasible option, since Dispatch guys just bought this computer and probably couldn't make an argument for buying yet another.

There are 2 identical Dell Dimensions running the same suite of software on the same subnet off the same NTP time signal that are behaving just fine, so I've ruled out ambient heat or some other digital or physical environmental condition. I've tried a few shareware monitoring and suppressing utilities, but so far haven't found anything that is really helpful. Any thoughts, I'm all ears.

doublehorn - from the not-quite-so-frozen wilds of Southern BC.
1 Solution
Try replacing the battery on the motherboard first..  An inexpensive solution to an otherwise drastic problem..
A couple of years ago, Dell had a problem with their clocks and had a patch for it, don't for whether this applies to yours:

[langalist] LangaList Standard Edition 2002-05-13  
Date: 5/13/2002 1:18:52 AM Pacific Daylight Time

A PC' system clock was losing time for no obvious reason. I gave some general
advice, and then asked if other readers might know better answers.
I got a flood of email covering a wide range of issues--- some of which
I'd never heard of, but many of which turned out to be exactly--- and I
mean *exactly*--- right:

     It's called "Why does my computer lose time in the Microsoft
     Windows XP operating system?" I followed these instructions
     and it works OK. --- Richard Schrafel

     I recently purchased a new Dell and had the same problem.
     Searching Dell's support site I found a patch to cure the
     problem. Below is the only explanation on Dell's website, so I
     have no idea what the problem is or what the cure is. The
     patch did take care of my problem: "Description: Dell Time
     Keeping Utilty.  Dell systems with factory installed Microsoft
     Windows XP Pro or Home may lose time. Time loss rate has been
     reported as high as a 20 minute loss per hour...." --- Randy

     In your newsletter today, a reader wrote about their clock
     being off with Windows XP. An interesting note is that Dell
     had a this problem with computers shipped with XP
     preinstalled. They have a patch at
     --- Yeager

     About Jonny Lieberman's BIOS timing problem He didn't indicate
     whether he had an OEM system or not, but I know that Dell
     offers an update for their Dimension 8200 systems that
     corrects a time problem. It can be found at  .[Note: This is an
     alternate download location for the same file mentioned
     previously.] --- Eric Ellenberg

     Hi Fred, In regard to the weird problem in the latest
     newsletter, I had the same problem with my new Dell. I went
     through all the steps and found it to be the Windows system
     (XP Pro). Never found exactly what the problem was, but in my
     research I found other Dell users with the same problem. There
     happened to be a download fix on the Dell site. There was an
     instruction file and a batch file in the download. The batch
     file contains these commands:
          @echo off
          @cmd /c net stop w32time
          @cmd /c w32tm /unregister
          @cmd /c w32tm /unregister
          @cmd /c w32tm /register
          @cmd /c net start w32time
     I never really thought much about it after it fixed a very
     annoying problem, especially when I was late to pick up my
     kids one day. Looks like some type of registry problem.
     Anyway, I have attached the files. I am not sure if they apply
     to the case mentioned in the newsletter, but the problem he
     describes is exactly the same. --- Paul M Ruzicka

Many readers also knew about a conflict between Dell's OEM installation
of XP Pro and Norton Internet Security/Antivirus: This conflict also
causes the clock to lose time. The fix is to update part of the Norton
software via the link at .

Others suggested this link, which gives an indication of how widespread
clock problems are on the Dell 8200 line:

So the problem clearly seems to be with Dell system clocks. In fact, the
only thing in the Microsoft KnowledgeBase that looked even vaguely
similar was;en-us;Q311884 ,
dug up by reader "Dave S." But that problem is incredibly
specific: The XP system-tray clock can jump by an hour under certain
conditions "... if your original time zone was set to '(GMT-06:00)
Guadalajara, Mexico City, Monterrey.'"

I sent all this info to Jonny Lieberman, the reader who originally had
asked for help. He wrote back:

     Yep. It is a Dell. XP Pro pre-installed. About five months
     old. Plus my power supply is regulated. Plus, all three of my
     other machines have perfectly functioning clocks. None are
     Dells. One is a Frankenstein with XP Pro that I installed
     myself. 20 minutes an hour sounds exactly right. I'll start
     playing with the patches. And, your readers are amazing. What
     a group! -Jonny-

Select a download format

Release Title: System Utilities: Dell Time Keeping Utility, Patch, Windows XP, Multi Language, Multi System, A01  
Download Hints:


Dell systems with factory installed Microsoft Windows XP Pro or Home may lose time. Time loss rate has been reported as high as a 20 minute loss per hour.

Selecting a download format

  Release Date: 3/19/2002

Description: Dell systems with factory installed Microsoft Windows XP Pro or Home may lose time. Time loss rate has been reported as high as a 20 minute loss per hour.

Important Information
   The computer user should be logged on to the system with an account that is a Computer Administrator.  

This file is available in the following format(s). Click on the filename to download:

Filename Download Size Format Format Description
Time.exe 31 KB Hard-Drive This file format consists of an archive of files that may be decompressed to a directory on the hard drive. The installation can then be done from that directory.  

Additional Information

Fix for Windows XP system clock losing time.

This file is compatible with the following systems running the following operating systems: Dimension 2100
Dimension 2200
Dimension 4200
Dimension 4300
Dimension 4300S
Dimension 4400
Dimension 8200
Dimension C
OptiPlex GC
OptiPlex GX100
OptiPlex GX110
OptiPlex GX115
OptiPlex GX150
OptiPlex GX200
OptiPlex GX240
OptiPlex GX400
OptiPlex GX50
Precision 220
Precision 330
Precision 340
Precision 420
Precision 530
Precision 620
Windows XP

Installation Instructions

Download and copy the Time.exe to your hard drive then double click
on the file.
Follow the instructions on your screen.

1. Select the "Install Now" button below to run the tsreset.bat file.
2. A Command Prompt (DOS) box will appear on you desktop with the
following: The Windows Time Service Is Stopping.
3. A series of DOS commands will then run correcting the time issue.
Note: the error message "access is denied" will appear. However, this is
normal and expected. It will not prevent this file from correcting your
time loss issue.
4. The Command Prompt (DOS) box will close when the installation is
5. Click on the START button.
6. Click TURN OFF COMPUTER in the lower right portion of the menu.
7. The Turn Off Computer dialog box will appear.
8. Select RESTART.
9. Once Windows XP has rebooted your system is ready for use.

Atomic Clock Sync utility

Free! - Atomic Clock Sync utility
Our freeware Atomic Clock Sync utility can help you keep your local computer up-to-date with the exact current time.

This program will reference an atomic clock server to get the current time with the greatest accuracy available and update your PC's information. It can even be set to automatically check the time once a day to keep your PC's time accurate forever. Best of all, you can download and use this utility at no cost to you!

No spyware! No ad banners! No cost! No questions asked! So why do we do give Atomic Clock Sync away as freeware? Simply to encourage you to use and return to World Time for the current time in places other than where you live!

  download Atomic Clock Sync 2.6 via        

(this free utility requires Windows XP, 2000, Me, 98, 95 or NT 4)

Keep your PC time accurate with our FREE Atomic Clock Sync


 Welcome to -- Home of AtomTime95, AtomTime98 and AtomTime Pro

The accuracy of your PCs clocks is important for many reasons, but keeping it that way can be a chore. iTimeSync does the job for you by contacting one of many NIST time servers over the internet. No configuration is needed, simply connect to the internet, run the program and press "Correct". iTimeSync can also be set to automatically synchronize any minute / hour / day period and it supports both the RFC-868 (TIME) and the RFC-2030 (SNTP) protocols. While servers names are included, this list can be easily changed, for example, to servers that are closer to your locality or to a local server on your LAN. iTimeSync can even sync from another iTimeSync as it can be used as a TIME server on a LAN. Other features include detailed logging, auto advance to another server if the selected one fails, auto start, minimize to tray, check without change, correct only minutes and seconds mode, and a positive or negative time offset can be set if you are in a obscure time zone or if you like your clock to be fast or slow.

Free Tool: Site Down Detector

Helpful to verify reports of your own downtime, or to double check a downed website you are trying to access.

One of a set of tools we are providing to everyone as a way of saying thank you for being a part of the community.

I think your best bet is to check with Dell.  If you "just purchased" this one, they'll most likely send someone up for free on-site service.  Or just threaten to return the unit for replacement.

I don't think it is a battery issue.  Usually the batter is used to keep the bios and/or clock when the computer is off.  It should affect the outcome of the clock when the computer is turned on.

I don't think the automic clock sync would help either.  If what you said was true, then this problem occurs while the computer is running.  Which means that you may have synchronized your clock 3 hours ago, but it could just go off on you... and setting the computer to sync on a minute-by-minute bases isn't a real option.

I think this could either be a hardware issue or a software glitch.  Perhaps you should ask Dell and see what they think.  Let them know that you're calling from a 911 dispatcher, because I'm sure they don't want to be blamed for a system foul-up during an emergency 911 situation :-P

- Info
Very true info..  just that replacing that battery could (emphasize could) be a $4 solution..  And letting Dell know that this is for 911 dispatch purposes is excellent..  They will definitely be more helpful if they know that..  
doublehornAuthor Commented:
Sorry about the delay in awarding points for this question. The intermittent nature of the problem dictated that I needed to see several weeks of stable behviour before calling the problem resolved.

LRI41's suggested that Dell had issued a patch to correct some system clock weirdness which I downloaded from Dell and applied. In the weeks since I've applied the patch, the clock has been 100% stable and accepts its time from the NTP time signal as reliably as the rest of the 911 workstations in the Dispatch Centre. While I'm going to maintain a high degree of skepticism about the fix, it seems like this actually worked. All 250 Points go to LRI41.
Very good..  Kudos to LR for finding that fix..

Nothing brillant about it, I boughty a Dell for myself and my two sons a couple of years ago, and myself and one son had clock problems until we applied this fix.  Now my runs almost perfectly, mayby gets a second or so behind every 6 or 8 months.

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