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Computer Performance - Is the hard drive the culprit?

Having read a few articles about computer performance, I often come across the "big four", the four components of your computer that might be impairing performance: CPU, memory, hard drive, and NIC.

When a computer is running slowly, CPU and memory are pretty easy to check. Windows Task Manager does a nice job. When I want a little more information, Process Explorer is a great resource.

I've found analyzing the hard drive to be a little trickier. To check the health of the hard drive itself, I'll use HDTune. The graph is useful, and comparing the Access Time to published values is also useful.
HD Tune
More-often-than-not, the hard drive's health is just fine, but it's older, runs a little slow, and it's being over-utilized by one or more processes. To check this, I'll open Task Manager, sort on I/O Reads (or I/O Writes), and watch the bigger numbers to see if they're growing.
Task Manager I/O Reads
Alternatively, I'll fire up Process Explorer and sort on I/O Reads Delta (or I/O Writes Delta), looking for big values.
Process Explorer.exe
So what's my question? I'm looking for critiques of my process. Am I missing a key parameter? Are my existing steps misguided? Please be candid.
4 Solutions
Those are good tools.  Some other things to keep in mind that are HDD related to speed are how full it is and fragmentation.
Dave BaldwinFixer of ProblemsCommented:
HDTune is a good tool.  In particular because it shows those dips in the plot.  Those dips are where bad sectors have been replaced by spare good sectors elsewhere on the disk which cause extra seek time to get to them.  A 'perfect' hard disk would show a smooth curve with no dips.  

The 'Info' tab is also interesting because it show the operating mode for the drive.  I had one drive that was rather slow when it had another drive on the cable.  Apparently, the second drive had a bad interface line that forced both of them into the most basic and slow access mode, about 3MBps max.  I ended up replacing both drives and the cable and everything went back to 'normal'.
It's a good process. Here is my suggestion.

I like to throw in a Performance Monitor analysis in the mix depending on what I'm troubleshooting. I generally monitor a hard drive throughout the work day (for end users) using various built-in counters and analyze them with PAL or by looking at the report.

Performance Analysis of Logs (PAL) Tool - http://pal.codeplex.com/

Windows Performance Monitor Disk Counters Explained:
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Any more, a conventional single disk spinning hard disk will typically be the slowest component in your computer. Depending on the technology, typically between 30MB/s and 130MB/s sustained transfer rates.

After that, you have your NIC. Depending on the model and technology, this may be either much slower or much faster than your spinning hard disk. Wireless can run anywhere from 1.1MB/s to 140MB/s, with wired typically between 10MB/s (100Mb/s) and 1000MB/s (10Gb/s).

Memory only starts being an issue when you don't have enough for the tasks that you are running. Once you exhaust your physical memory, you start swapping which then results in using your Hard Disk as a memory source. Considering that most desktop memory writes at 6.3GB/s or greater with picosecond latencies, dropping to 30MB/s with millisecond latencies can be quite painful.

When you have enough CPU available to devote to it, performing volume compression can serve as a benefit as your CPU will be able to compress and decompress data faster than your hard disk could provide it.

One noteworthy consideration for diagnosing slowness is looking at I/O Wait and Load Averages as it provide a great indication as to which components are holding up your execution chain.
for analysing devices, best start from the beginning
in this case, look at it's specs : what is the model, RPM, and transfer speed?  what ram cache does it have ?
that will give a good basic idea; you can then use HDTune to compare if needed

right now, i suggest everyone to use an SSD for the OS and programs - it gives a boost in speed  i never have met by any other upgrade
jdana y et al,

Wow, excellent question and information - i am just monitoring this case to pick up some 'tricks of the trade'... although Nobus beat me to the comment of starting with the disk specs first.  If you wanting a faster HDD subsystem, then using a 5400 RPM HDD is not a good starting point  :)  But, somehow I think you already knew that....

And yes, SSD are great and something that I am looking into right now, but I am not sure that the controller for the SSD is the same for SATA, and there for may need a complete OS install so that the right driver is picked up.

the ssd has a normal sata interface...
the only thing that can influence it is the AHCI setting in the bios
My hero !!!
You all have a great weekend.

jdanaAuthor Commented:
Thanks to all for a batch of terrific responses.
tyson-edwards - Great comments.
derrrp - Great links.
DaveBaldwin - "Look for the dips." I like it.
Rojosho - My new Crucial SSD is literally sitting on the shelf in my office waiting to be installed. (Of course, it doesn't do me much good sitting on the shelf.)

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