Backups on external hard drive suddenly take forever

My client makes Acronis full disk incremental backups, backing up the C drive on his Sony laptop running Windows XP to a 250 GB external hard drive.  Hes been doing this for years.  Suddenly, on October 28th it began to take forever for backups to complete. For instance, instead of 3-5 hours he ran two days ago ran all night and didnt complete.

He brought the laptop to me and I did some general cleanup.  This helped with overall performance but not with the backups. He had been running Acronis 7 but I had him upgrade to Acronis True Image 10.  I took another external drive and started a backup to it.  We didnt wait around to see how long that was going to take but it didnt seem to be making progress after 15 minutes.  Acronis also seemed to take a long time to find the drive.  The first thing the software does when it starts is to find all the hard drives on the system.  Ive seen this on other computers/drives also, where it can take 5-10 minutes for Acronis to find all the drives and get ready to do some work.  So I dont know if thats related to the overall problem.  Its like the USB suddenly went from 2.0 to 1.1.  

Thanks,
Al
 
Alan SilvermanOwnerAsked:
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loknaCommented:

Check the BIOS settings. Im not familiar with sony laptops, but some laptops and most desktops have an option to downgrade usb speed. Such problems can occur when the BIOS is updated or settings are cleared. I also recommend updating to the latest BIOS version.
 
Test multiple USB ports to make sure the problem isnt related to a single port.
 
Try reinstalling the usb drivers. In Device manager, Universal serial bus controller:  uninstall all the subitems and reboot to reinstall.
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nobusCommented:
check the power and energy settings - also in device manager, for the external disk
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Alan SilvermanOwnerAuthor Commented:
Could the properties of the primary ide channel in disk manager have anything to do with this?  Since its USB I wouldnt think so, but some sites searched on the Internet seemed to make that connection.  

My own settings on a Dell XPS desktop seem to be the same as his:  I see that for disk 0 the settings are DMA if possible but the current transfer mode is  PIO Mode.  For disk 1 its Ultra DMA/mode 2   I am not sure this matters for me because my drives are sata anyway.  

I did go into device properties for the USB storage device.  Under policies it was optimize for quick removal.  I changed this to optimize for performance, but there was no change.

I also had him put on another backup software, R-Drive Image, but that took forever also, so its not acronis.  

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Alan SilvermanOwnerAuthor Commented:
By the way, whenever I copy and paste an apostrophe or quotation mark into this forum, it turns these weird characters in my browser, either firefox or IE.  Is that what you see also?
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nobusCommented:
>>   the current transfer mode is  PIO Mode.   <<  this will slow the data transfer from disk considerably ...

yes, weird thing s here too
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loknaCommented:

If the IDE settings are to blame, all file operations should be slow, also copying from one folder to another on the local drive. You can test this by copying a large file, say 100MB from one folder to another and time it, then do the same at another computer with a file of about the same size, preferably the same file.
 
The problem could be caused by dead links in windows explorer, e.g. mapped network drives that cant connect. Also, some mp3-player software install a virtual folder/drive in windows explorer which can cause performance drawbacks when it isnt connected.
 
Btw, same problem with strange characters here as well.
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nobusCommented:
so yes, this may cause your backup to get very slow !
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Alan SilvermanOwnerAuthor Commented:
How would 'pio'mode on the ide connection cause slow backups on a usb connection without slowing down the whole machine to a crawl?  On my machine, a Dell XPS Gen 4, I had pio mode on my the ide channel, device 0, but ultra dma on device 1.  I uninstalled the primary ide channel but it still came back with the same settings. Now I'll flash the bios and see what happens.
Best,
Al
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Alan SilvermanOwnerAuthor Commented:
How would 'pio'mode on the ide connection cause slow backups on a usb connection without slowing down the whole machine to a crawl?  On my machine, a Dell XPS Gen 4, I had pio mode on my the ide channel, device 0, but ultra dma on device 1.  I uninstalled the primary ide channel but it still came back with the same settings. Now I'll flash the bios and see what happens.
Best,
Al
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loknaCommented:
A slow disk would slow reading from the disk, but this should also affect general system performance.
Defective cds might cause the ide controller to revert to pio, and this won't be corrected just by reinstalling the drivers. DMA mode could also be disabled in the bios. See http://winhlp.com/node/10 for details.
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Alan SilvermanOwnerAuthor Commented:
I flashed MY computer from bios 5 to bios 7 but still have the same settings.  When I see something like this, the settings being the  same on a computer with no problems,  I tend to think that it's not a factor in the problem but how these computers basically work.  
My best guess would be that on October 28th it went from usb 2.0 to usb 1.1 mode for some reason.  I looked into my device settings for the usb devices but couldn't see anything indicating what mode it was running in.  I wish there was some indicator of that.  It's not a case of some ports or not others.  We've changed ports and even used other external drives.
Al  
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loknaCommented:
In devicemanager you should have one or more entries called something like Intel USB2 Enhanced Host Controller, keyword being enhanced. They don't necessarily have USB2 in their name. The driver usbehci.sys is the usb2 driver. Check Properties, Driver, Driver details for the host controller(s) to make sure.
If you find you don't have a usb2 host controller, there is probably something wrong with your drivers. Uninstalling all usb controllers from device manager and rebooting might fix the problem, but you could be facing a complete reinstall.
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nobusCommented:
you don' t have to believe me - just check it.
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Alan SilvermanOwnerAuthor Commented:
Sorry about the duplicate entry.  
I went to http://winhlp.com/node/10  but when I clicked where it said to click, instead of a download of an executable I got the source code. Is there another site that has the executable?
I'm also having the client flash the bios.
Al
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loknaCommented:
You need to install windows scripting host to run vbs scripts
I guss you'll find it at downloads.microsoft.com
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Alan SilvermanOwnerAuthor Commented:
I think that might have solved it.  The primary ide channel was reset to dma-5 and the computer as a whole is running faster.  My client is going to try a backup to the external tonight and see if it's faster.  I downloaded the microsoft scripting host on my computer but still couldn't get it to execute.  I downloaded Microsoft .net 3.0 and installed that also, but I still couldn't get the script to run on mine.  But most important is my clients.  
We'll see what happens.
Thanks,
Al  
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Alan SilvermanOwnerAuthor Commented:
Customer says that the problem is solved. Does this indicate that the drive may be on the way out?  Or are these the type of i/o errors that occasionally occur to all drives?  

On my computer I was able to get the script file to execute.  I had to go into the folder options>file types and manually assign script files to wscript.exe in the system32 directory.
Best,
Al
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loknaCommented:
Usually, these errors are caused by defective cds with bad sectors. In some situations windows misdetects this and reduces the disk controller's speed. It does not however increase it, this has to be done manually.
To test the drive, rund chkdsk [driveletter]:  /f and check the output to see if you have any bad sectors on the drive. If you have to check it at boot time, the result goes into the eventlog, from source winlogon.
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nobusCommented:
when a cd or disk develops reading errors, windows tries to read it at lower speed, stepping down from udma 6 down to PIO, which is fine, and exactly what it should do - BUT it NEVER resets that; you need to do that yourself...
so, it can be caused by bad cd, or bad disk (on the same controller)
to test the drive - do NOT run chkdsk, it tests the file system
you better run disk diags from manufacturer :  http://www.tacktech.com/display.cfm?ttid=287
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Alan SilvermanOwnerAuthor Commented:
I'll get the diagnostic program from the manufacturer.
Great work.  It was fun learning something new.
Thanks to both of you,
Al
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nobusCommented:
have fun !
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