MBP Slow at Everything, even OS install?

MBP 13 inch Mid 2012
i5, 4gb ram

I was handed this MBP to fix the slowness the user experienced using any app. I confirmed its slow, horrible slow. beachball shows anytime you click anything. It can take 10 minutes to open finder and another 3 or 4 before the next pane populates. After some time looking at activity monitor and seeing nothing beyond 2% CPU and next to no disk usage, I gave up trying to locate an app related problem and started to believe it was a drive failure hidden from the disk utility tests. The only things fixed are a couple groups that are 80 should be 0 and 244 should be 0.
Tried disk utility and it ran for 20+ hours repairing permissions then ran again for 6 hours repairing the drive, both times reporting nothing wrong. I'm running it again repairing permissions and it has ben saying 8 minutes then 9 minutes for over 2 hours. This is typical of how this machine behaves.
Just for fun I put a new drive in in the middle of this and booted using CMD-R with the intention of starting over to see if that made it any faster.  I have used this method to replace a drive before but on this machine it behaved just as slowly as it does doing anything else. Since this method is derived from the system board and not from a disk, this is leading me to believe that the problem here is deeper than an app of a drive and appears related to something on the system board.
I would appreciate some insight on what to try next. I would hate to turn it over to apple for service, that just means defeat.:)
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Try running Apple Hardware Test:  https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT201257
Salad-DodgerInstrumentationAuthor Commented:
did that too. no problems found
How much free space do you have on the hard drive?
Also, what happens if you do a safe boot?
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James NewportCommented:
Have you tried booting from a USB connected HDD? If its still slow then I would say it was a system board issue
Salad-DodgerInstrumentationAuthor Commented:
Safe boot works, Still very slow.

Didn't try a USB drive, I will try that today though I would imagine USB would be pretty slow as well. Maybe it will be different at least.

I just read something about clearing the SMC? I cant find my trilobe driver this morning to remove the battery connection, You think this would help?
You don't need to remove the battery on the newer macs that don't have user serviceable batteries.

Reset the SMC:
Plug in power.
Power off
Hold the left shift, option, command keys then hold the power button for 15s
Release the keys and boot.
Salad-DodgerInstrumentationAuthor Commented:
This one DOES have a replaceable battery. I'll try that combo anyway.
Salad-DodgerInstrumentationAuthor Commented:
That combo didn't work, it just booted
If you have a replaceable battery, then remove the battery, unplug the power and just hold the power button for 15s.
Salad-DodgerInstrumentationAuthor Commented:
Well, this battery is unpluggable without removing it...  Not like my bigger MBP. No Trilobe needed this time.

Reset SMC
Started permission repair - 2:55  24 minute estimate (500gb drive)
22,28,57,1:35,13,7, (minutes left)
3:20 - Library/Printers/InstalledPrinters.plist should be 80 group is 0
3:34 - 6 minutes left
3:40 - Still 6 minutes left
Still pretty slow.  Anything left to try?
David AndersTechnician Commented:
Macbook Pro there is a known problem with the harddrive cable.
The symptoms can be varied.   I have replaced the cable five times in last year.
Google "macbook pro hard drive cable"

Safe Mode will run a hard drive repair (SHIFT key down at startup) this MAY help.
Booting with the recovery partition to run Disk Utility can also help diagnose, it gives results when running whereas Safe Mode does not.  (COMMAND + R at startup)
Resolve startup problems   https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT203176
About OSX Recovery   https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201314

Sometimes removing the hard drive and booting from it in an external case is the only way to verify the problem.
http://ifixit.com  has directions on replacing the HD cable and sells the cable $45 to $55

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Salad-DodgerInstrumentationAuthor Commented:
I am going to try the USB boot tomorrow.  Since I am looking for a problem related to slowness, How well with the system work with a USB drive as its only drive. Wont that be pretty slow just by its USB nature ?
David AndersTechnician Commented:
Without replacing the drive cable, booting from a Firewire drive would be the only obvious not slow test.
Booting from another mac connected with a firewire cable in target disk mode would also work.
James NewportCommented:
I'm pretty sure that 2012 has USB 3 - so if you used a USB 3 enclosure it would be quicker than firewire
It should be fine even with a USB 2 interface.  They should still have sufficient speed for comparison to your obviously slower system.

Also, your description of how you removed the battery tells me that you have a non-user serviceable battery.  Are you sure your followed my initial SMC reset instructions correctly?  The first 3 keys must be on the left side of the keyboard.  Pressing them on the right side does nothing, which may explain why you booted up when you pressed the power button.

I've never encountered the hard drive cable issue, but if you're replacing it that often, then it may possibly be your handling of the cable installation, or something is heating and cooling it too much on your system.  It's just thin copper traces on a plastic film.  You can't bend it too much or you'll create microfractures that will eventually break.  I have upgraded the hard drives on several older macbooks to SSDs and haven't had issues with any cables yet.  You might consider getting a newer laptop or switching to one that no longer uses those film cables.
I assume Dave Landers meant that he had replaced the ribbon cable on 5 different Macs in a year, not all on the same one. It is a known problem. I have seen it referred to here on EE before as well as in the Apple Community.
David AndersTechnician Commented:
The five replacements were on five different client MBPros.
The symptoms were diverse.
Disk Utility refusing with errors to repair the hard drive.
Extreme slowness - a SuperDuper clone took 17 hours for a 45 minute process.
Booted from external HD, DiskWarrior failed with errors to repair directory.
A single GUID partition was listed as 2 MBR partitions the same size (500Gb) on Desktop and Disk Utility.
Removing the hard drive and plugging it in with a Firewire external case and the symptoms disappeared.
Replacing the cable solved each of the MBPro's problems.
These were all within the past 12 months.
A Google will find collaborating links.
This is one
http://ifixit.com   has the cables for specific models for sale and the instructions.
Ah, that makes more sense.  I mistakenly read that as 5 replacements on a single machine, hence my reply.

I don't dispute your corroborating links.  I've seen them before.  I've luckily just never encountered this particular problem in the numerous Macbooks I've encountered.
Salad-DodgerInstrumentationAuthor Commented:
I was pinged for update.
Cable will arrive tomorrow, maybe today but its USPS so no guarantees
I plugged a new drive into a standard SATA USB pigtail and installed new OS Lion and then upgraded to Yosemite on it. Other than taking 2 reboots each time to start it works fine. Fairly crisp response, cant complain.
I then placed that drive into the machine and it wasn't recognized at all. I'm not certain if I have to take another step to have this drive recognized as the boot drive (after being set up as a boot drive under USB). I would have thought that after a Control+R boot the newly created drive would appear under the startup options or drive utility but it doesn't while on that internal cable.  I haven't had the guts to plug the original drive until the USB connection in case something went wrong and I lost all the stuff therein.
David AndersTechnician Commented:
If the cable is bad, I am not surprised that the new drive is not recognized.
Starting with OPTION key down, bootable drives are normally displayed. Not so much with a bad cable.
OSX Startup Manager
Salad-DodgerInstrumentationAuthor Commented:
Installing the old drive onto the defective cable works however. Works very slowly...but is at least recognized.  That's what makes this a little more odd than I would have expected.  Perhaps there is a "mounting" issue I am missing as well?
I would like to put the old drive on the USB connection to see what would or wouldn't work, but I'm not sure how that would end up.
Salad-DodgerInstrumentationAuthor Commented:
Cable was indeed the problem. That has to be the weirdest set of symptoms to be cause by a bad cable. Completed failure of the drive sure, but slowdowns and inability to recognize any drive but that one... ? That's just weird. but it runs normally now so I can argue with the outcome.
Thanks for the help folks.
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