Hard Drive Transfer Rate Intermittency

I'm working on a Dell Vostro desktop circa 2011 with Windows 7 Pro 64, 2GB RAM.

The system was working *VERY* slowly but was working.
I cleaned it up re: parasites or PUPs which I'm sure was a help but no fix.
I see no behavior that would indicate parasites remaining - although I could take more drastic steps in this regard.

[As background, I have seen on rare occasion hard drives that would test "OK" yet had a VERY low data transfer rate.  Cloning them and replacing with a new hard drive fixed the problem.]

I tested the computer with HDTune and found the data transfer rate to be below 3MB/s average.
Of course, this is at least 20 time slower than "normal".
I replaced the hard drive but it didn't help so I put the original back.
I updated the BIOS and updated the chipset drivers.
Altogether these things seemed to help.

Now the computer works fine some of the time and it reverts to sluggish performance at other times.  
HDTune tests confirm that the data rate is either "normal" at around 85MB/s average or abnormal at below 3MB/s average.  I have seen the performance switch in the middle of an HDTune test!

I'm looking for ideas as it seems to not be likely to be a lurking parasite.  Not likely chipset drivers.  Not likely BIOS-related (the new BIOS has almost no settings beyond boot order and power options).  I've not replaced the SATA cable but I did switch the SATA port on the mainboard.

What might you suggest as likely things to pursue?
LVL 27
Fred MarshallPrincipalAsked:
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dbruntonCommented:
Well first try a different SATA cable.

Then remove hard disk from computer and attach to another computer as slave.  You've said it's SATA so attachment should be easy.

Use the second computer to test it.  You can use HDTune  or the manufacturer's util downloadable from either Seagate or WD (most likely supplier).  If the disk proves satisfactory there you've got something unsatisfactory on the laptop.  A borked OS or some type of malware still or a bad application of some type.
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viki2000Commented:
After you check the SATA cable and another HDD, maybe you could consider other options too.
For example, Windows 7 Pro 64 with only 2GB RAM seems very small.
You should have either minimum 4GB or better 8GB RAM for a 64 bit system in order to see it working better.
How about testing your RAM memory to see if is OK?
I know that most of the time the RAM memory is either good or bad, but I encountered 2 times situations when was "so-so". It gave me random errors and I thought comes from Windows, but was the RAM due to too much heat on the RAM chip, bad positioning and not enough ventilation.
Maybe is not your case, but worth to test also the RAM memory.
You can do it simple with Windows. Just Start --> Run -->> mdsched.exe and Enter.
The PC will restart and do the test.
Here are some guides:
http://www.cnet.com/how-to/test-your-ram-with-windows-memory-diagnostic-tool/
http://www.7tutorials.com/identify-memory-problems-windows-memory-diagnostic
http://www.wintuts.com/Windows-Memory-Diagnostics-Tool

Or maybe you can use a dedicated free software:
http://pcsupport.about.com/od/toolsofthetrade/tp/memorytest.htm
I personally used and like this one:
http://www.memtest86.com/
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nobusCommented:
i alwayys use memtest86+ for testing ram, you can find it on the UBCD :  Hardware diagnostic CD    UBCD

go to the download page, scroll down to the mirror section, and  click on a mirror to start the download
Download the UBCD and make the cd   <<==on a WORKING PC, and boot the problem PC from it
Here 2 links, one to the general site, and a direct link to the download

since the downloaded file is an ISO file, eg ubcd527.iso - so you need to use an ISO burning tool
if you don't have that software, install cdburnerXP : http://cdburnerxp.se/

If you want also the Ram tested - run memtest86+ at least 1 full pass,  - you should have NO errors!
 
For disk Diagnostics run the disk diag for your disk brand (eg seagate diag for seagate drive)  from the HDD section -  long or advanced diag !  (runs at least for30 minutes)

http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/                        ultimate boot cd
http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/download.html             download page

**  you can make a bootable cd - or bootable usb stick

also  -  is the system not overheating?  install speedfan to monitor the temperatures : http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php      

you can also check if all cpu cores perform normakllly  with this tool  (if it is an intel cpu)
http://www.intel.com/support/processors/tools/piu/sb/CS-014921.htm
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viki2000Commented:
By the way, what kind of antivirus, antispyware, antiadware did you use ? And which one do you still have installed?
Some of the consume resources and filter the information in real time, then no wonder the HDD access is slow.
Did you try, after cleaning, to disconnect from internet, shut off the anti-parasites softwares and then to run HDD benchmark?

Do that and run CrystalDiskmark:
http://crystalmark.info/software/index-e.html
Another good toll is this one:
http://www.hdsentinel.com/

Here are 2 more:
http://www.attotech.com/disk-benchmark/
http://www.eset.com/int/support/sysinspector/

How big is your HDD?
What type is it?
How old is it?
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
It looks like one of my responses got lost:

I had cloned and introduced a new hard drive which appeared to make no difference.  So, I don't think that testing the current HD elsewhere is going to show us anything.  I returned the original to the computer in view of this.

Performance has gradually improved with a variety of software cleanups.

I clean up a lot of computers and use these tools:
CCleaner for general purposes including temp file removal.
Malwarebytes
HitManPro
RogueKiller
ESET online scanner
ADW Cleaner
rarely: Combofix
The success rate is very high.
Except Combofix, all of these have been run on this computer.

It appears that opening a web browser triggers the problem for the user.
I see but brief transfer rate slowdowns with HDTune doing the same thing (launching a browser).

The HD is SATA 320GB around 4 years old.

Most of the work is being done remotely which will eliminate the use of live CDs at least for now.
... a minor inconvenience.
Still, wouldn't it be great to be able to boot a PC from a live CD "image" on the HD (obviously not .iso), support remote access and switch back to Windows boot thereafter?
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dbruntonCommented:
>>  It appears that opening a web browser triggers the problem for the user.
I see but brief transfer rate slowdowns with HDTune doing the same thing (launching a browser).

Hmmm.  I'd suggest the computer can't handle a number of tasks at the same time.  And that's causing the problem.

viki2000 has suggested more memory and that would definitely help I believe.
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Interesting about the memory size question.  I would have agreed a few weeks ago.  Since then I read about "what the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit regarding memory?"  The answer was not what I'd expected, i.e. 2X.  Instead, the answer was that it makes little difference (except the amount of memory that can be addressed of course).  Since there are a number of these computers doing pretty much the same thing with the same configuration, I doubt that increasing the memory is going to fix this problem.

My current theory is that there's a parasite associated with web browsing (very common) that hasn't been completely cleaned up.  And the issue of faulty memory remains to be dealt with.
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viki2000Commented:
Memory test is easy to be done, but if you strongly believe that is a parasite, then I recommend you a very good and strong scanning software which should detected your problem outside of the Windows.
You should try an antivirus rescue CD. It is free. And if you have internet connection, then you can download the latest viruses definitions after you boot from that rescue CD. Maybe today works easier with a USB stick if the PC supports USB boot.
What I tried in the past and helped was:
1) Kaspersky:  http://support.kaspersky.com/viruses/rescuedisk#downloads
2) Avira: http://www.avira.com/en/download/product/avira-rescue-system

Inside window try also Spybot: http://www.safer-networking.org/
The above are free.
Some other good, that I tried and like, but not free are:
SpyHunter: http://www.enigmasoftware.com/products/spyhunter/
Sypware Doctor: http://www.pctools.com/spyware-doctor/trial/
Ad-Aware: http://www.lavasoft.com/products/ad_aware.php
Spy Sweeper: http://www.webroot.com/us/en/home/products-spysweeper

You may consider a Windows repair, first with SFC scannow: http://pcsupport.about.com/od/toolsofthetrade/ht/sfc-scannow.htm, then repair install.
One thing I can tell for sure, based on enough experience: all the trouble and time spent in cleaning/repairing, no matter if  it is a virus, registry, HDD bad sector..., takes a lot more effort then saving the data and clean Windows install, which is straight forward and faster. Of course you would need to scan and clean the rescued data anyway.
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nobusCommented:
was the drive you cloned from running without problems?
if not you inherited the problem
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
nobus:
was the drive you cloned from running without problems?
 if not you inherited the problem
No.  Exactly.  
That's why testing the original hard drive in another computer is not going to likely yield any new information.  It should work fine (as a secondary hard drive for testing and not as a boot drive) just as the *new* hard drive / clone did *not* work fine in the original computer.

If the issue is not the physical hard drive and the SATA cable has been replaced and the software has been cleaned up (which I consider to still be ongoing) then there are still a few things left.

I ran a memory test with no errors.
I ran TDSSKiller, RKill and Combofix in a single instance of Windows boot.
I've run sfc.

Today we're using Chrome in place of IE to see if that matters (as the troubles seem to correlate with uses of IE).  
Maybe its the mainboard....  :-(  but it doesn't "feel" that way.
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nobusCommented:
imo - you can ttry to repair the OS on the old or new drive; but it is often faster to install windows fresh !
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
nobus:  yes, one of those approaches to Windows would be the next step.  Because of the investment of time into the configuration, I generally leave this for last in many cases.

It looks like the last steps did work so we won't be dealing with Windows.

Thanks all for the suggestions!
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Thanks again!
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nobusCommented:
glad to help
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viki2000Commented:
It would be interesting a short feedback to know how did you solve the problem in the end.
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
CCleaner for general purposes including temp file removal.
 Malwarebytes
 HitManPro
 RogueKiller
 ESET online scanner
 ADW Cleaner
Memory test with no errors.
----
TDSSKiller,
RKill and
Combofix in a single instance of Windows boot.
----
 sfc.
Uninstalled, downloaded and reinstalled IE and Chrome.

It seems the last few steps did the trick.
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