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Hard drive is sputtering - should i defragment?

Running XP pro on a dell , 380 RAM, 40GB HD.

My Pc has been sputtering lately and i thought it was because i installed zone alarm but it is still slow even with ZA off. The hard drive tries to access web sites, and it sometimes loads the page and sometimes it doesn't. I tried running Disk Doctor via Norton systemworks but i got a message saying " the operating system, or another process, currently has exclusive access to this drive, or some of its files. Norton disk Doctor cannot continue with a repair under these conditions." If i schedule it to be scanned and repaired it will do it, but no error messages or fixed issues occur. I tried runing norton Speed Disk, which "optimizes" the drive, and this worked yesterday, and today the PC was ok as soon as i turned it on, but then got slower very quickly. should i defregament via Diskeeper?Thanks to all.  
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narroyo99
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narroyo99
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Have you checked your machine for spyware/adware/viruses?  What's using your system's Memory?

Open Task Manager, go to the processes tab, go to the view menu, choose "Select Columns".  Then make sure "Virtual Memory Size" is checked.

Then see what's using your memory.  Especially your virtual memory.
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narroyo99Author Commented:
Task Manager lists the usual suspects: firefox at 16,964k, then cvchost, vsmon, explorer,CCAPP, etc.  I do have anti-virus and ad-aware and update and run them regularly. What's strange is that i'll be on web site, like this one (exprets exchnage), and when i reload or click on a bookmarked site, the PC might state "www.experts exchnage.com could not be found. please check the name and try again". And if i try to relaod again, it will be fine. My DSL service seems ok, running at 800 mbs.
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WatzmanCommented:
Re: "The hard drive tries to access web sites"; .... web sites don't come from the hard drive.  Nothing you have said really points to hard drive issues.  In terms of defragmentation, Diskkeeper is unlikely to do any more than Speeddisk did.  In any case, I think that in looking at your hard drive, you are looking in the wrong place.
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narroyo99Author Commented:
i point to the HD because i had this same problem yesterday and ran Speed Disk, which seemed to have worked, until about one hours into today's session, when the PC started to slow up via Firefox and Outlook.  SpeedDisk listed several large fragmented files reated to Norton Intenet Security, which i removed several weeks ago, but those files are no longer listed. Could it be just my web access?
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Also, uninstall Norton.  Not the Antivirus, but the Norton Utilities.  Last version of Norton I used that actually HELPED improve performance was for Windows 3.1  Since then, all versions I've tried just slow my systems down.
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narroyo99Author Commented:
But doesn't Systemworks help find errors and optimize performance? I've already gotten rid of Norton Internet Security and replaced it with Zone Alarm Suite.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
That's what Symantec wants you to believe - but in my experience, all it's ever done is slow the system down.
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WatzmanCommented:
I have to disagree on Norton, I have it and use it and find that it helps.  But honestly, I still think that the whole issue of the disk drive here is a red herring.  I don't think that either Norton or the disk drive is an issue.  If I were going to remove anything, i'd remove Norton Internet security.  Operating behind a router (which everyone should always do, even if they are not sharing an internet connection), with good AV software (Norton qualifies) and the SP2 firewall is all that you need, in my opinion.  My experience with software firewalls (except for the one built into SP2) has been universally bad, and that goes for Norton, Zone Alarm and Black Ice.  I just find that they all cause more problems than they solve.

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rindiCommented:
If your problem is caused by the disk, it may be because it is full. How much free space do you have on it? Since you are using norton (I agree with leew here, it is a system hog and often causes more problems than it solves.) I'd check norton's recycle bin. If you don't need those deleted items, empty both recycle bins, that of windows and that of norton. Then do a defrag.
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marco_peereboomCommented:
What I think of it so far is that you have some sort of Spyware on board. Some sorts of CWS are able to do some things to your registry, to make default browse behaviour go berserk. I know you have Anti-Spyware running, but the problem with these Spywares is, that when they infected your PC, it is nearly impossible to lose it.

What Anti-Spyware are you running?
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Reid PalmeiraTelecom EngineerCommented:
In terms of software use i would say to keep norton systemworks. you may not use all of the features and it may cause some performance degradation but the tools like the one-button checkup and disk doctor are good for general maintennance on a machine and speeddisk is a decent defragmentation tool.  on that note i doubt that it's hard disk related.

if it is a software issue try to run Hijack This http://www.merijn.org/files/hijackthis.zip or http://www.majorgeeks.com/download3155.html and post the logfile here or under the security section to see if it's a piece of software that's running that's bogging your system. It may be something that was dormant for a while after you defragmented and just popped back up.  

the best bet for hardware performance issues is probably either a case that's overheating, a hard drive near crashing or a power supply that's junk. If you don't notice other problems with your drive (for example is it slow opening files locally? does it make strange sounds?) you can probably discount that as an issue. My guess on little information would be high case temperature which can be solved pretty cheaply with better cooling (fans are sufficient) and a can of compressed air applied to all fans, openings and areas of the case clogged with dust bunnies

cheers
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dlonganCommented:
Well, from everyones comments nobody has asked some basic hardware questions like:

1)  What processor and speed
2)  Internet connection speed - dialup, cable or dsl...
3)  Hard drive type - DMA1,2,3,4,5...

Have you done a benchmark of your disk subsystem to determine if it's setup correctly?

Ensure no adware/spyware/viruses.

Turn off all unnecessary apps and services

Defraging is most important but it will never help out an underpowered connection or system clogged up with to many services and or apps.


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Cyber-DudeCommented:
What OS are you using? also, what FS are you using? (i.e. FAT32/NTFS and forth)...

You can identify exactly what process is occupying the drive by using Windows internal utilities... this is why I need the OS version...

Cyber
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bkeanCommented:
I would try running Adaware, spybot, ect.
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