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CPU Usage randomly spikes when watching videos

I thought I could ignore this, but tonight just reaffirmed that I have to fix this problem.  Within the last 1 or 2 weeks (can't pin down the exact date), my computer has been acting up with random lag spurts.  

Before I start, here are my specs:
Dell Inspiron 9400/e1705
1gb Ram
Nvidia GeForce 7800 GO
80 gb hard drive
Intel T2500 Duo Core 2.0 ghz processor (so 3.6ghz roughly)
Windows XP Home SP2

It all started when I tried playing Neverwinter Nights 2.  My computer is supposed to have passed not only all the minimum requirements, but also all the recommended ones too, yet the game ran horribly slow even on all the lowest settings.  I decided it was time I updated my drivers; maybe that would fix it.  I updated my BIOs as well as my video card driver and the performance might have been a little better, but it wasn't that noticeable.  I decided instead of dealing with that, to watch some videos instead.

At first, the lag started happening after about an hour or so of watching a video.  During the video, the sound would keep going for a bit, but the video would freeze.  Then the sound would get choppy as it continued to play, but the video remained stuck.  In fact, my entire computer was slowing down.  It took forever for anything to load.  I eventually loaded up the task manager to find the CPU Usage constantly fluctuating somewhere between 85-100%.  I went to the processes tab and noticed that like 6 of my background programs got a spike of 5-20% cpu usage.  The numbers kept fluctuating and seemed almost random except that the System process always took up the majority of the cpu usage.

I decided to start ending processes on my computer.  I started at 55 running processes and got it down to 50 when the lag started to dissipate.  It took about 5 minutes.  I went back to the video and not even 30 minutes later, it started happening again.  5 minutes later, and 5 processes less, the system started returning to normal.  Then it happened again 20 minutes later.  I then had only 40 processes.  10 minutes later it happens again.  I realized it can't be any specific process that's causing these problems because every time my computer starts lagging, ANY running processes get a huge spike in cpu usage, even if they barely do a thing.

Just a simple restart did not help.  I did a system restore back to the beginning of the week, but it didn't help.  I noticed that even when I was playing music or just idle, the lag attacks would still occur, sometimes lasting for 10 minutes.  I reinstalled my old video driver and thought that fixed it.  I was wrong.

Sure, the lag spurts now did not happen while I was idle or listening to music, but they still happened while I was watching videos.  Usually they would only last for 5 minutes or so and then go away.  I did a virus scan, spyware search, and a hijackthis log analyzer.  I ran some windows tune up utilities to try to tweak the registry and I disabled a bunch of startup programs, but it did nothing noticeable.  After exhausting all my options,I gave up.  It wasn't too horrible since reinstalling my old video driver since it usually went away after 5 minutes or so, but I didn't know what to do.

Well, just a couple hours ago, I came back from a friend's place where we plugged in my laptop to output to his big screen TV so we could watch a movie I had on my hard drive.  There were about 6 other people that I was just meeting for the first time watching with us.  The movie night was going great until... the lag spikes returned.  I was so embarrassed.  After more than 5 minutes of consistent lag, I had restart.  It happened 5 times during the span of the movie, 4 of which I had to restart.  I tried different media players, but it did not help.  Almost everyone left by the end.  I felt so bad.  I knew it was time I asked the experts for help.

As a side note, I think the occasional lag spurt while watching movies might have happened once or twice before I installed Neverwinter Nights 2, but they weren't as bad.

Any help would be great.
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Kronikle
Asked:
Kronikle
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3 Solutions
 
ProjectfocusCommented:
This fault looks like it will be a hard one to resolve.  What I would advise would be to run a performance log on the Processor and Processes.  Setup a Counter log for all processes against % processor time.
This will show you what process is causing the slowing of the graphics card.  You will need to mark the exact time of the slow of graphics and then look to see what program caused the issue from the log file.  This could take a while to diagnose the issue but I would say it is likely to be something very processor hungry.  I.e an update service for either AV or Adobe or Windows Update.

I think the only option you have now is to log the processes and see if the problem is related to that.  Or this could be a overheating issue and the processor is ramping down and therefor the processes are use more of the full porcessor power.  It could be a good idea to montor CPU temp if possible.  This is def either a Driver (ruled out to all effect), Prcoessor Hardware related.
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rindiCommented:
Check the powersaving features of your system and disable them at least while not running off the battery. Notebooks will usually slow down the CPU after some time to save power.
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ridCommented:
While your hardware definitely seems to be able to handle great loads, you should perhaps review your autostarting options... 55 processes seem quite a lot of processes... XP in itself can be running with like 20 processes only, perhaps less. Going down to 40 is of course an improvement, but even so, among those could well be one unnecessary process that has a problem which you haven't tried to stop.
/RID
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SysExpertCommented:
malware - Leetutor list
Have you tried running virus scans and spyware scans  This could be a problem with viruses/trojans/spyware or other malware. Some free online virus scanners:

http://housecall.antivirus.com 

http://www.pcpitstop.com/antivirus/default.asp

http://www.pandasoftware.com/activescan/com/activescan_principal.htm

Also try these free programs to rid your system of spyware, trojans, and other malware:

http://download.com.com/3000-2144-10194058.html?tag=lst-0-1
Spybot - Search & Destroy

http://download.com.com/3000-2094-10045910.html?legacy=cnet
LavaSoft Ad-aware  

I use BOTH of the above programs on my 3 Windows systems; what one program misses, the other catches.  Also make sure to download the most up-to-date data before you run the programs.

Another very good freeware program for ridding yourself of spyware is this:

http://www.superantispyware.com/
SuperAntiSpyware

You might also try this free program (HijackThis) -- install it in its own folder, don't download to your Desktop:

http://www.spychecker.com/download/download_hijackthis.html

HijackThis is a tool that is for advanced users, because it lists all the installed browser add-on and startup items, allowing you to inspect them and then optionally remove any ones you select.  You must be careful in choosing what to remove, although the program can create a backup of your original settings.  But put a check mark to fix any home page or search page setting that HijackThis detects which you have not entered yourself.  The program has an option to download online updates of the hijack data.

You should first post the log at this site:  

http://www.hijackthis.de/index.php?langselect=english

and it will be automatically analyzed for you (after you click on the button labeled "Analyze" near the bottom of the page), telling you which entries (called "Nasty") should be fixed.  You will also be told if you have any items that are "Possibly Nasty", or "Unnecessary", or "Unknown". If you don't know what to do about these, you might find something on the module name by doing a Google search of the internet.

If you have any questions about what it is asking you to fix that you would like the E-E experts to comment on, then do this:  right above the Analyze button you will see this message: "The following analyses has been stored temporarily", and there will be a link where the analysis file will be saved (for a period of three days). Click on it and then copy the link of that page from the address bar of your browser and paste it here, and experts can check it for you.  (Please DON'T post the entire log itself in your question.)

In case you would like to learn more yourself how to use HijackThis, here are a couple of urls:

http://www.tomcoyote.org/hjt/
HijackThis Quick Start

I hope this helps !
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KronikleAuthor Commented:
@SysExpert: I already posted in the original question that I used a virus scanner, adware/spyware search, and a hijackthis log analyzer.

@rid: I've gone through and looked up each process individually countless times, and even went to the extent of running Security Task Manager.  Everything that's running is either vital or safe.

@rindi: Thanks for the suggestion but it didn't really help.

@Projectfocus: What do you suggest I use to log the processes?


I've now found that the lags usually last for 10 minutes and they can occur even when I'm watching a video on youtube.
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ridCommented:
55 vital processes? Or even 40. Hmm

If you have a firewall software running, tighten it up or set it to log traffic. Check if there is any kind of external connection that occurs during these spikes.
/RID
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KronikleAuthor Commented:
Well, they're not all vital.  Most of them are just safe to run processes, like WindowsBlinds, CursorXP, or Trillian.  And the freezes happen even when I'm not connected to the internet, so I don't think my firewall will catch it.
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ProjectfocusCommented:
You can use the standard Process Monitor that is part of XP.  If you right click on My Computer and goto manage.  This will bring up a MMC with Performance and logs manager.  If you set a couter log for the Processes against processor % usage. Do this for all processes that are in the list.  I believe there is a button to select all from list.  Setup the log to a CSV file.  This will make it easier to read.  Have a go at that and see if you can find the process that is slowing the system at the time the system crashes.

Also have a look at this program it is free and will monitor the temp of CPU runing and Fan speed.  This will show you if you are having a problem with CPU overtemp.  Here is the link.
http://www.almico.com/sfdownload.php
You could also look into using SIW to interigate the processes and see where they are all running from.  This can tell you alot about the processes that you don't know what they do.  This could help in diagnosing if there are any nasties on your system.
http://www.gtopala.com/siw-download.html

I also have to say that doing the Hijackthis log and posting the log onto the site mentioned about would be a good idea.  Not to solve the problem outright but it will remove some of the un needed processes that will be on your system.  There does seem to be alot there and removing them will make the machine faster and will help the problem if not resolve it altogether.
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qz8dswCommented:
Your machine is above my specs majorly.
(P4 2 gig 512 meg)
Your right your machine is above specs majorly for the game you mention, not to mention just playing a DVD.
I agree with a possible overheating problem as suggested by projectfocus.

Things like windowsblinds I just inherently don't like personally. I've seen some horror stories with windowsblinds and other software in the same vain with slow downs.
Does it happen if you turn off ALL unessential software.
Your AntiVirus what is it and is it set to scan all files?.
If so it could be scanning the VOB files while it's trying to play as such.

Terry

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garycaseCommented:
"... Intel T2500 Duo Core 2.0 ghz processor (so 3.6ghz roughly) " ==> Not sure what you mean by this ... but unless you're overclocking the CPU it's running at 2.0GHz.   The architecture is notably different than the Pentium-IV's, so trying to equate the performance to a 3.6GHz P-IV (I presume that was what you are suggesting here) doesn't really match up.   However, that's just an aside ... so on to your problem ...

Your symptoms don't exactly match what I'd expect for a transfer mode issue (because of the lack of consistency) ... but slow program loads, stuttering audio or video, and high CPU utilization are all signs of the wrong transfer mode for your hard disk and/or optical drive.   Go to Device Manager [right-click on My Computer; select Properties; click the Hardware tab; then click on Device Manager], expand the IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers line [click on the "+" sign];  then, for each of the Primary and Secondary IDE Controllers do this:  right-click; select Properties; click on the Advanced Properties tab; and see if ALL of the devices are using a UDMA transfer mode.   If you see "PIO Mode" for any of the "Current Transfer Mode" settings, that's most likely your issue.   If so, it can be resolved with a simple registry modification ... post back if that's the case and I'll note what you have to do.


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garycaseCommented:
... actually, just in case it is a PIO mode issue, I'll go ahead and post the resolution.   If ANY of the "Transfer Mode" settings are PIO, change them to "DMA if Available"  (you can change that).   Then reboot and check them again.

If any of the "Current Transfer Mode" settings are PIO, do the following (you can't change them like you can the Transfer Mode):

Load RegEdit (Start - Run - Regedit)

Go to the following keys:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\ Class\{4D36E96A-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002BE10318}\000x

The last four digits will be 0000, 0001, 0002, 0003, and so on.

Under each key, delete all occurences of the following values (not every key will have these values, but delete them whenever they occur):

     MasterIdDataChecksum
     SlaveIdDataChecksum

Now reboot your system & check again ... the transfer modes should now be correct.
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KronikleAuthor Commented:
@garycase: It's a Duo Core processor so it's roughly 2x the 2.00 ghz.  Also, all my transfer mode settings were set to DMA.

@gz8dsw: I use AVG anti-virus and it does a full system scan every night.  It still happens when I pretty much disable everything except vital system processes.

@Projectfocus: Here is my hijackthis log: http://www.hijackthis.de/logfiles/265784aa8bb20c231a9be74117ab82e7.html

I set my computer to log all day the processes against processor % time.  I also have SpeedFan running, and will check that when the lag starts happening (though, I can't adjust any of the fan speeds).  

One idea that I had which might be the problem is that I might not have cleaned out the old drivers and that might be causing some issues.  I ran this Guru3d Driver Sweeper program (I do not recommend it.  I had to boot up through Ultimate Boot CD for awhile before I was able to get back in.) and I reinstalled my old drivers so we'll see if these errors keep happening.  I also uninstalled this nHancer program.
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garycaseCommented:
Performance doesn't work that way (2 x 2.0GHz).   What you'll get from a performance perspective depends very much on the application mix; whether the applications are single or multi-threaded;  whether or not you've set processor affinity; etc.    In addition, the Core architecture is very different than the Pentium-IV architecture, so the clock frequencies are not at all comparable.   But a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo is an excellent CPU :-)

I'm not surprised your transfer modes are okay ... as I noted before, "... Your symptoms don't exactly match what I'd expect for a transfer mode issue ..."   But since the behavior was so similar, it was worth checking.

What Codecs are you using to play the movies?   There can be major differences in performance of different codecs ... and this is another thing that might account for the behavior you're seeing.   You can identify what codecs you current have installed with this free download:  http://www.updatexp.com/sherlock-codec-detective.html    If your current mpeg codec isn't a well-known one, you may want to switch to a better codec and see if that resolves your issue.
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KronikleAuthor Commented:
I loaded up the Sherlock program and all the codecs popped up.  Most of them seem fine (most either MIcrosoft or DivX related), but I don't know how to check which ones need replacement.
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garycaseCommented:
DivX codecs can be very CPU intensive.   You might want to uninstall the ones you have and re-install the most current ones.   This can sometimes help with codec-related issues.   Are you using the DivX Pro v6.6.1 codec?
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KronikleAuthor Commented:
So after uninstalling nHancer and driver sweeping my computer, the problems haven't returned yet.  I've watched 2+ hours of video today and so far nothing.  That might have solved it, I'm not sure, but if I don't get any more problems within the next couple days, I'm just going to split the points up among you guys.
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garycaseCommented:
If you were "messing" with the various video display options, I'm wondering if you might have changed the 3D acceleration settings and/or turned off Overlay mode for video display ==> either of these could have impacted the ability of the system to play video smoothly.   Doesn't require a 3rd party program to change ... but the fact you were using one triggered the thought.

... in any event, you seem to have the settings correct now ==> so I suspect all is now well :-)
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ProjectfocusCommented:
If nHancer has been causing the problems try this piece of software.  It is mainly used for using alternate resolutions and tweeking of the image for big screens.  It may be of use to you.
Powerstrip
http://entechtaiwan.net/util/ps.shtm
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KronikleAuthor Commented:
Ugh, the lag returned.  Not for the full 10 minutes, and not while I was watching a video.  This time, it was when I was playing a SNES game on the ZSNES emulator.  I noticed the lag would also often happen when I would play an NES game (using a different emulator of course).  Maybe this can narrow the issue down?

Being that I still have this issue, I guess I still have to tinker around with settings.  I turned Hardware Acceleration down to "None".  Let's see if this helps.

I tried loading up SpeedFan while the lag was occurring, but the system wouldn't respond until after the lag subsided.  My current temperatures are quite hot though.
HD0: 53C
Temp1: 71C
Core 0: 51C
Core 1: 51C

I don't know how I can lower these since it won't let me adjust the fan.  I don't even know if it has anything to do with the problem.  

Also, I stopped logging processor usage yesterday when I thought the problem went away, but I'm going to try to start it up one more time.  I
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KronikleAuthor Commented:
Nevermind on the no hardware acceleration.  The game looks and runs like crap now.  Back to full.
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KronikleAuthor Commented:
Ok it just happened again, but I noticed something.  Right before the lag started happening, my Core 0 and Core 1 temperatures were getting to around 85 C.  As soon as the lag happened, the temperatures started dropping substantially, until they got to around 52 C, and then the lag subsided.  This could be coincidence, but might the lag have something to do with my laptop overheating?  If so, what can be done about it?
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ridCommented:
Very generally and disregarding anything that may already have been said about overtemps here, I'd like to point out 3 things:

Blockage of the air flow ==> check for and, if applicable, remove dust or other foreign matter that hampers airflow.

Fan not spinning as it should ==> check fan for bearing problems or anything else that may cause low fan speed (dust, as an example, or hairs)

Heatsink not in full contact with processor cooling surface ==> disassemble and reassemble, with new coating of thermal compound.
/RID
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KronikleAuthor Commented:
I blew out whatever dust I had with compressed air (a cotton swab would not fit in the vents) and downloaded this awesome fan control utility made specifically for dell laptops http://www.diefer.de/i8kfan/

Let's see how this helps.
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