Ashamed to ask computer question - slowing down or is the hard drive dying?

OK, the FAQ and my own limited computer knowledge couldn’t help me:

I recently got a new hard drive and installed XP Pro on it. Things went along fine. I even put SP2 on and had no problems although in the past three weeks or so, the damn thing’s been getting noticably slower and I can’t figure out what’s going on. I’ve tried:

  • Spyware and virus scans (two different types of each in both normal and Safe mode using latest definition files)

  • Clearing out temp files, doing the system cleanup thing (all it found were temp internet files)

  • Error check and defrag

Nothing seems to work. Programs take slightly longer to load than I remember, but if I’ve even got only one program open, I have the hell of a time opening another in a timely fashion. I check the Processes adn I’m usually about 20% CPU usage and 179ish/1249 on the Commit Charge (what is that thing anyway?).

Windows takes about 100% longer to load as well and I got a very pecular message when starting the computer that last time signalled the beginning of a slow death of my hard drive - when the BIOS screen came up, I had to hit del because something was wrong. Checked the HD cable connection and it looked OK. Motherboard lights are all green. I also took the side cover off to install a new hard drive and the damn thing won’t go back on (some of the metal lining got bent) so the computer is open-faced as it were although there’s nothing here pet-wise to crawl inside and it looks just as clean as the day I bought it.

Working on a PIII 1Ghz w/512 Memory.

Anyway, thanks for the help.

Your utilization is 20% even when you’re not really doing anything? That’s not usually the case. Have you got a lot of junk running in the background? What process is consuming that 20%?

Commit charge is the total memory in use, both physical and virtual.

IANA Computer tech, but the 20% seems awfully high, if you’re not running any intense programs. Maybe a posting of a HiJack This log is in order. Seems like something may be running in the backround that shouldn’t be?

Given the specs of your computer and the fact that you’re running XP, there’s a possibility your CPU is getting choked by background services. XP comes with a boatload of “background services”, most of which do not merit the CPU and RAM that they suck up. I was able to reclaim a lot of lost performance in XP by doing this.

Since I do not feel like writing them all out, here is a link to a site that has some very detailed information on the various XP services. This link in particular points to the things you need least that suck up the most resources:

Note - on the above site, I suggest, trying his hints listed #2 first. This is disabling the system restore service… a huge resource hog, rarely useful. See if you can gain some performance by disabling it.

If not, progress to #4, and #6. Finally, go to #8, which is just a pointer to a lot more information on services that can be disabled.

Disclaimer… service tweaking is challenging but rewarding. Once you start doing it, you need to forever keep it in the back of your mind that you’ve changed this. You might install certain software to find that a service is needed, in which case you need the presence of mind to remember to go back and turn it on.

Whoops, apparently I was running Media Player when I reported the 20%. I’m down to 1-3% after I closed it. D’oh!

Natto, thanks for the link. I’m noticing a huge increase in speed and I haven’t rebooted the computer yet. Of course, now I have the feeling that I’ll wish I had system restore when I do turn this thing off…

I never thought I’d say this but I think the candy-colored GUI has grown on me…

That advice helped initially and then the computer seemed to slow down again (though I thought I had timed it objectively, perhaps I didn’t and only thought it helped). Now there’s an added problem:

When I start the computer up I get to the screen where all of the components (drives, keyboards, etc.) show they’re initialized/enabled. I get the message “Press Del to resume.” If I don’t press delete, I’m stuck there until the end of time. If I do, the computer loads normally.

I had this problem before and called Dell’s useless tech support (I know this is GQ, but I’m pretty sure this is a fact) and the tech support lady had me type some commandline in whereby I got an “error code 4” (or whatever) which apparently meant I was Fucked.

I installed a new HD, reloaded the OS and didn’t have the problem again.

About six months ago I decided that I wanted to upgrade to XP Pro (from Me) and got another HD to load XP on. This occurred without a problem (even the SP2 upgrade) and I was off and running. Until about a week ago when the above “Press del” problem started. I couldn’t remember the command I used, so I called tech support again. They restored my old BIOS settings (which I had changed when I installed the new HD) and after not understanding that all I was asking for (the command line), I was put on hold and promptly disconnected.

So, does anyone know what I might be talking about? Is my HD dying? I’ve created backups and will hook the second drive up to transfer it. FWIW, the 1,2 and 4 lights on the back of the computer are amber and 3’s not lit (I think, I’ll have to restart and confirm).

If you need any more information, please let me know.

If I do need a new computer, can I install the backup onto a new XP system? I’ve only saved My Documents and assorted other data, not system files.

Also, would it be easier to salvage the drives from this computer and get a new case/MB/processer or should I just get an already-made box?

Thanks for your help.

Go over to and run their free online tune-up (ActiveX required). When it is finished, go to the yellow box at the upper right marked ‘Current Test Results’ and click on “Share Results with TechExpress”. Copy the link on the next page and post it here. I’ll have a look at what you have running.

Checking to see if your hard drive is dying, is actually quite simple.
Do you know the brand of Hard drive you put in it?
It’s usually as simple as downloading their diagnostic software and running it from a floppy.

Do you get the prompt to press Del every time you boot?

Here is the Microsoft article regarding “error 4.”

Since you have had the same problem on 2 different hard drives, I am betting you have a problem with the hard drive controller or something else on the motherboard itself. You might be facing the unenviable task of replacing the motherboard.

Thanks for the links to the tests!

Ran the manufacturer’s diagnostic program and the drive checks out.

Also ran PCPitstop’s analyzer and

My three problems were:

Need to defrag (freakin’ hell, I just did it a couple days ago!)

Need to lower IE cache (should also stop using IE)

Unusually low disk performance. (Uncached speed 4 MB/s (17%) 25% fragmented and 1% file fragmented. )

It also pointed out some stuff running in the background that I hadn’t anticipated. I’ll check the defrag and run the test again to see if that helps my disk. If not, I’ll have to try downloading some of the drivers.

I just hope PC Pitstop isn’t using this information to steal all of my legally downloaded music or bank account numbers or anything…

When you installed the drive did you set the jumpers correctly? Most drives are set to Master but some of the Dell’s that I have seen use Cable Select. You should insure that it is set according to Dell’s specs. Is the hard drive being recognized correctly in the BIOS? Most motherboards use Auto_Detect and it works well but that is another area to double check. The specs for the drives are usually written on the top.
It would be better also if you could provide a little more info on the error message that you recieve on bootup. It might point to the problem.