Windows XP SP3 major hard disk slowdown (I/O)

Posted on 2012-03-28
Last Modified: 2012-06-27

I have a winxp sp3 machine with the latest updates and kaspersky antivirus.
It suffers from major slowdowns in all programs and activities.Even for example
opening a single folder.
There are times where  it runs normally and other times where it is very slow.
I tried running in Safe Mode and doing full scan with the following antivirus programs:

Kaspersky,Malwarebytes,Spybot and combofix

All of them did not found anything which makes me think that is another issue, maybe driver or hardware related.
So firstly i did a performance test on hard disk with hdtune free to measure the read/write speed of hard disk.
I noticed that in the begining it started with 70mb/s which is normal i think for a 160gb sata disk and after that it dropped down at 1mb/s for several seconds and then up again at 35mb/s then down again at 1mb/s.

This is not a normal behavior for sure because i have run hdtune to many hdd and there was not so much difference in the results.

So I downloaded the newest drivers from Asus (P5K) and installed them but again the same results.
Tried uninstalling several programs including Kaspersky Antivirus but again the same results.

Note that this happen even in Safe Mode.

Finally I booted from a BartPE usb stick and run (offline) hdtune to test the performance of the hdd from there and voila! from this test i get normal results ranging from 70mb/s to 45mb/s, no major falls like 1mb/s.

This leads me to think that something in windows is screwed up but i don't know what.
Using process explorer inside windows i don't see high cpu utilization neither high interrupts.
On event viewer nothing special is logged.

Tried also this tool which resets dma access in winxp but i didn't help.

Do you have any idea what slows down so much disk access?

thank you
Question by:aciddo
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LVL 47

Expert Comment

ID: 37777835
Classic symptoms of deep error recovery.  You have blocks that are unreadable first attempt, so HDD goes into a deep recovery mode where it can take a few seconds to up to 60 seconds to get that data.

At this point you can run diagnostics to confirm, but since this is WinXP, and just a 160GB disk drive, then it is a safe bet that the disk has well outlasted the warranty period (and useful lifespan.  These typical desktop drives are designed for 3-years worth of use)

Get a replacement drive and migrate your data to it, and then get in habit of backing up.  You probably have some data loss or file corruption that you haven't discovered yet.

Author Comment

ID: 37777886
Thank you for your response...

..but i have used programs which reads s.m.a.r.t status of hdd and there is no bad sectors or other errors reported.
Also tried bad block error scan with hdtune and there was no problem reported.
These slow down appear only "inside" windows xp installation and not when doing offline
scan with bartpe and hdtune.

I don't have problem buying a hdd and clone disks but just want to be sure that this is not an o/s problem(it is a client's pc).
LVL 47

Accepted Solution

David earned 500 total points
ID: 37778065
First, post the detailed S.M.A.R.T. dump, and i'll take a look at it (as I've written S.M.A.R.T. diagnostic code since late 90s)

SMART is NOT what you think it is.  It is a predictive failure mechanism.  If the drive is in a degrading condition, the HDD uses algorithms based on these counters and tells you it needs to be replaced (with 75% accuracy give or take).

Bad blocks and ECC errors do not necessarily trigger SMART.  There are hundreds of thousands or millions of reserved blocks on your HDD.  Clearly a few bad blocks can't possibly always trigger an alert.  If it did, then the manufacturers are just being stupid, as there would be no need for so many spares.

As for bad block scan, you have to know what is really happening and the type of scan.  A recovered ECC error certainly can't show up after the fact.  A known bad block will.  But, it depends on whether the HDD was issuing an ATA verify or was it kicking off the ATA diag scans that use different algorithms and may or may not use 100% of the disk.  

So you don't even know if the entire disk was scanned.

Also if the problem was recoverable due to ECC or deep recovery (the delays you saw), nothing will show up on a scan, because the problem has already been fixed!

Depending on the make/model of disk, there may be counters that show actual number of recovered and unrecovered I/Os.   This is what you need to look at.

One absolute.  Your disk most likely was designed for a whole 2400 hours annual use duty cycle, and a 3-year life span.   If you bought a 36-month car battery and used your car as much as your computer would you be so hesitant to consider it is time to replace it?

100% of disk drives fail.  The logs will reveal the true health of the disk (well, deeper diagnostics will, but the SMART logs themselves will possibly reveal an absolute where the disk has had a large number of recoverable errors so it should be replaced no matter what).
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Expert Comment

ID: 37779724
How much RAM do you have in your system?

This sounds like you have too many programs running in the background causing excessive page file use. Windows will use the page file (a big chunk of hard drive space) like RAM whenever the actual RAM is filled up. This will cause massive slowdowns whenever you open up anything, and you'll notice the hard drive light will blink constantly or stay lit. Insufficient RAM would explain why the hard drive performs perfectly when tested outside of the windows environment. Hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete and then click the "processes" tab and check out how many programs are running in the background. You may be able to close or delete some that you don't need. Check the "performance" tab too to see the memory usage.

Author Comment

ID: 37780452
No there is not excessive page file use.I have confirmed this by using task manager and process explorer.Even hard disk led does not blink all the time when this delay happen.
Like dlethe said probably the hard disk is going off so I must change it.
There are 2 options:

1. Buy new disk and clone the old (faulty) one to this and see what happens.

2. Format the old (faulty) disk and install windows from the beginning just for curiosity to see if it will happen again.
LVL 92

Expert Comment

ID: 37780559
you can test if HDDREGENERATOR finds problems; try the free trial first :      

note it has recovered many disks for me - but the change in speed suggests something else
i would concur to replace the disk
LVL 47

Expert Comment

ID: 37781996
Formatting a FAULTY, worn out disk drive to see what will happen??   You know what will happen. It will retry, it will lose even more of your data. It will corrupt your data ... then it will die.

Replace this ancient drive. You got your money's worth out of it long ago. Isn't your data worth a $100 investment?   There comes a time to replace worn-out electronics.  This HDD should have been replaced years ago.  Do so now and don't give it a second thought.

Expert Comment

ID: 37782703
I have a couple of hard drives that I bought brand new back in 2003 and they are still working perfectly with no problems. It all depends on how much they have been used. If it were me I would back up all the data and then format and reinstall Windows and see if the issue remained - just to satisfy my curiosity whether it actually is a faulty drive, or if Windows is to blame. That being said, I wouldn't trust critical data to such an old drive.

If you clone the old drive to a new one, you may end up with the same problem if Windows really is at fault here. I would start with a fresh Windows installation if you decide to get a new drive and then copy your backed up data over to it.
LVL 92

Expert Comment

ID: 37782914
while i agree that all disk will fail - it is not said that all fail in a time lapse of 5-10 years.
the "replace the disk" is a fast, sure way out  - and while it is possibly a bad drive, there are many 160 GB Sata drives  still working ok - i even have many IDE ones working
so if the  asker wants to investigate the condition  of the drive  - i say why not ?
and as i suggested, HDD regenerator has repaired many drives for me (reported bad, not booting, even bad smart)  - i have since none returned (i mark all of them)
LVL 47

Expert Comment

ID: 37782981
HDD regen doesn't repair drives, it just reads and remaps blocks.  All smoke and mirrors.  When you get down to it, we both know those drives have a 3-year warranty, and that warranty generally covers usable life.  

But moot point, when/if the author reports the S.M.A.R.T. dumps (and ATA logs if he can get them), then the answer will be apparent.
LVL 47

Expert Comment

ID: 37783394
Respectfully, just because you have a few old disks that still work doesn't mean anything.  I have disks that don't work, so we cancel each other out.

Lifespan of a disk is not limited to just how a disk is used.  

Reformatting is absolutely pointless as it writes data that is known good. (Besides technically you are not reformatting anything, you are just doing a fresh O/S install, so you clear up bugs and code and registry and stuff.  )

It tells you nothing about a faulty drive because the issue is reading data not writing data. It can certainly stress a drive, but an O/S installation isn't much stress, and if you want to stress write test a drive, you need to do it properly by performing a media verify.   If you don't verify that the data you wrote is readable w/o retries (AND MATCHES WHAT YOU WROTE), you learn nothing.

You certainly won't get 100% of the HDD either with an install.

Author Comment

ID: 37783611
Thank you for your comments.

I will report back when i go to my client to do the tests.
LVL 92

Expert Comment

ID: 37785828
>>   All smoke and mirrors  <<  not for me, thank you.
i only report from my own experience here - that's all
and i do not say it will repair it (it cannot repair a physical problem) - so if that is the case, it won't help
i just don't throw stuff away like that - and i have the time to test it out

Author Comment

ID: 37799878

I bought a new hdd and cloned the old one to this.
After that problem resolved.

thank you

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