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XP gui slows down, CPU not pegged. Multi XLS on XP

I am trying to spot a bottleneck in a system.  Here is a summary of it:

Dell Precision T3400
core2 quad Q9450
4GB RAM installed
32bit XP Pro sp3
standard SATA drive
office 2003 sp3

I am monitoring the standard items that come up with perfmon--but with each CPU core monitored separately.  Disk time and memory pages per second are 0 most the time with sparse spikes to 60 times per second. Nic isn't utilized much.  ~2 GB of free RAM.  We would stress out the machine by running multiple, complex Excel 2003 sheets.  After about a dozen sheets, the XP GUI (explorer.exe) starts running slow, the explorer process or any other process is not hogging CPU cycles.  All 4 cores are between 40 and 60%. It can take minutes for explorer to respond to mouse clicks on the task bar for example.  The sheets work fine.  Excel seems zippy.  Perhaps there's bottleneck somewhere that I didn't consider.  What might I look at?  Is there a way to monitor the front side bus?
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pcrequest
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pcrequest
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burrcmCommented:
RAM is running at effectively 100% if 2GB is free as 2 is all it will use. Set the 3GB switch per the instructions here to see if any improvement -

http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/system/platform/server/PAE/PAEmem.mspx

Consider a 64 bit OS, pref Vista.

Chris B
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pcrequestAuthor Commented:
I'll try the switch, however I should note XP only sees 3.00 GB RAM.  so 2/3 of the RAM is free.  And if RAM was all used up, shouldn't I see a lot of hdd thrashing show up in the memory and disk counters as sustained periods of highs in the graph?
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burrcmCommented:
Doesn't matter if XP sees 3GB, if you read the link I posted - The virtual address space of processes and applications is still limited to 2 GB, unless the /3GB switch is used in the Boot.ini file.

So your RAM is maxed out and no doubt the swap file is getting a workout. This is why it is not happy. May even run better if you drop the RAM to 2GB, would have to try it to see how it went. XP cannot take full advantage of the quad core, you should upgrade.

Chris B
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