Painfully slow laptop: what information would help you help me?

Beyond what you would expect for someone who started college in 1992, I know very little about the workings of computers. (So, basically, a knowledge of various terms, and a capacity to make minor tweaks on my own based on a general familiarity with the different control panel functions, but no real understanding of how things actually work, hardware-wise.) With that in mind:

My laptop has been incredibly slow over the last month, and I haven’t figured out a way to fix it…probably because I’m not pinpointing the source of the problem, because I don’t know where to look or the right questions to ask. Here’s the relevant (or relevant as far as I know) information that I’ve got at my fingertips.

I’ve got a 2004 or 2005 Sony Vaio notebook running Windows XP. It’s got 447 MB of RAM and a 30 or 40 gig hard drive. My internet connection is DSL. I use AVG for anti-virus and anti-spyware, I’ve got some sort of firewall (don’t know the specifics), I try to defrag my hard drive (which is partitioned into C: and D: ) pretty regularly, and I also use Spybot and Adaware every few weeks or so.

I use my notebook for the following things: (1) checking my e-mail; (2) surfing the web (mostly blogs, newspapers, and message boards, using either Internet Explorer or Firefox interchangeably); (3) doing work (which uses Word, Adobe, and internet research services); (3) playing online poker; and (4) playing/downloading music. That’s it. No games, no streaming video, nothing else. And the playing/downloading music is pretty infrequent.

Until about a month ago, I was able to multitask like a charm: I could have four tables of poker going, as well as MS Word and several browser windows, and could switch back and forth between all of them quickly and freely. Then (I don’t recall exactly when, since I can’t recall doing anything or downloading anything that might have triggered it) it seemed like my notebook’s capacity to handle multiple things at once without terrible lag and frozen applications took a nosedive. Now I’m lucky if I can have one poker table and MS Word open at the same time without any browser windows, or one poker table and two browser windows without MS Word. And forget about playing any music if I’m running other programs as well.

Here’s what I’ve done about it: I defragged the hard drives again and used all the anti-spyware programs, of course. I’ve tried to turn off any extraneous services using msconfig. I figured it might be a RAM issue, so I increased my virtual memory and then downloaded a well-regarded freeware program that’s supposed to optimize your RAM usage (I don’t remember the name of the program…it seems to help – and when the computer slows down, it’s definitely reflected in the amount of RAM the program tells me I have available – but it hasn’t really solved anything). I thought about buying extra RAM, but (a) that’s expensive, so I don’t want to do it unless I’m sure that’s the problem, and (b) it means opening up my laptop and tinkering inside, so I really don’t want to do that unless it’s necessary. Then I talked to the computer guy at my work, who suggested I monitor the CPU tab in my task manager to see what’s using the processor. This hasn’t really helped, except that I’ve confirmed that when the notebook slows way down, the processor usage is generally 100%…but it’s being taken up by the same programs that it used to handle just fine! And other than that, I’m not sure what I can do to address the slowness issue.

So this thread is asking two related questions. First, have I given enough information above that people might be able to diagnose the likely problem and suggest solutions? And second, if not, what other information would help?

It’s kinda driving me crazy not to be able to work and play poker at the same time when working from home; strangely enough, that helped me focus on work and not get distracted and procrastinate-y like I’m prone to do.

What version of XP are you running? (SP2? SP3?)

Do you have any of your software set up to automatically install updates?

I would suggest a heat problem. The CPU will throttle it’s performance when it gets too hot. Use a can of compressed air to blow out all of the vents. You may be able to find instructions in the manual on how to clean the CPU fan, or at least open the case for better cleaning access.

Not sure, but I can check when I get home. I hadn’t installed Windows updates for a while because it seemed like they were slowing down the machine (this is well before my current troubles), so about two weeks ago I left the notebook alone for an hour and just let it install whatever it wanted to.

I’d turned automatic updates off sometime last year because it was getting annoying to get the reboot prompt when I was in the middle of things. Until two weeks ago, it downloaded the updates automatically but I installed them at my leisure. Now it should be up-to-date. Still having the same slowness problem, though.

Iggins:

That’s a great suggestion. Anything I need to worry about breaking when I open the case?

I would try to blow out the vents without opening the case, if at all possible. Usually, the CPU fan assembly is not as accessible as the memory, for example. However, some laptops are easier to open than others, and the manual should point you the right way.

Yes, your laptop.

Seriously, be careful. I’m a computer guy and I’ve messed up more than one laptop trying to open it up because I couldn’t be bothered to look up the proper way to do it. So if you are going to, see if you can find instructions on how rather than just winging it.

I’d also agree that you might try just blowing it out with compressed air.

Even before that, download a heat monitor like hmonitor or SpeedFan. They will tell you if you are indeed overheating. If not, then you might be wasting your time trying to cool it down.

Excellent! Thanks.

And throw some more RAM on your machine. It’s not that hard to install RAM on a laptop and it will make a big difference. 447 mb is nowhere near enough for XP. You need to get it up to at least a gig.

I second the heat idea. If your CPU is overheating, most models will clock themselves down to keep running with lower heat output, which would probably result in what you describe.

Give all the vents a good blast, which should result in a bunch of dust flying around, and a faster PC.
And more RAM would be good too… even just another 512 is going to result in measurable increases in speed.

Another vote for adding more ram. 447 is incredibly low and slow. Buy more, and life is good.

Check your start-up menu. Is there a bunch of crap starting up that you don’t use? Delete it.

If you have your re-install disks, buying a new disk drive is a great speed increaser. Most of the older hard drives were 5400 rpm. Nowadays, you can get 10,000 rpm. You notice a HUGE increase.

Finally, if you aren’t downloading files all the time, or pulling huge files off the internet, ditch the anti-virus software. It slows your machine down a lot. However, if you DO download lots of stuff, leave it on. If you do remove it, just re-install it once a week, check for viruses, then unload it.

A couple of years ago, my desktop was getting slow, and I tried defragging and scanning the disk, with nothing helping. I eventually realized that the hard drive was going. In my case, I think it was a second drive causing the problem. After buying a new hard drive (the first one was really small), the computer was fine again. The bad drive eventually died completely, but I managed to get everything important off it.

Thanks. I’ll definitely do this this weekend. I have to ask, though: given arseNal’s warning about opening up my laptop, and given my complete unfamiliarity with computer innards, is this really something I can handle myself? I mean, I’d rather not go to a professional if I don’t have to, but I also don’t want to risk messing up my computer.

IF your laptop vendor has a nice guide on how to do this, you should be fine. Lenovo had a great online guide on how to do this for my old T41p, you couldn’t go wrong. IF your vendor doesn’t, don’t even consider it and take it somewhere (back up your valued data TWICE before you do this).

Accessing the extra memory slot usually just involves opening up a flap rather than disassembling the whole thing.

Most laptops have two memory slots—one right inside the computer, and the other in a little door at the bottom of the computer, which you can usually just open with a screwdriver or something similar. Adding new RAM to this outer slot is a piece of cake.

While i agree that adding more RAM is a pretty good idea, though, it seem unlikely that a memory deficiency is the root cause of your problems, given that your computer apparently ran fine until about a month ago.

If i turns out that heat is the problem, clearing the dust out will help. You can also buy something like this, a laptop cooling tray that goes under your computer, is powered by a USB slot, and has a couple of small fans that help to keep the laptop cool. They go for about $15-50, depending on the model. We bought one for my wife when her old laptop started overheating, and it helped quite a bit.

In as much that increasing memory is almost always good, one thing that I’ve been having problems with recently are these fucking autoinstalling applications that perform automatic file indexing. I’m talking about you, Nero Scout! What a pile of shit. Did anyone actually ever beta test that cancerous tumorware? It made clicking the Start Menu take about 5 minutes. I was tearing my hair out and about to do a clean install of my OS. Fortunately, it kept crashing so I could I would get a message alerting me that NMIndexStoreSvr.exe was problematic. Disabling Nero Scout seems to have fixed the problem. I doubt that this is your problem but I’ve had problems with other indexing applications such as Google Desktop, so I just wanted to mention it in passing.

If it was running fine recently and is now running slow, memory is highly unlikely to be a problem.

In addition to the overheating issue, I would strongly reconsider the malware situation.

Run hijack this, etc. While there are a number of computer experts here, there are forums where specialists hang out and can diagnose even the more uncommon problems. See the computer problem sticky thread.

Yeah, as others have said, changing things like the hard drive or memory is no problem. Don’t let my warning discourage you from that. It’s when you’re trying to get at some of the innards like the heat sink or cpu that is sometimes problematic and you have to be a little more careful (it’s usually still doable, tho).

I agree more RAM would be a good idea in general, but definitely look into what has suddenly started giving you grief, which is probably not going to be the RAM (as mhendo said).

I also have a problem with slow running. I am running XP on my laptop with only 480 MB of RAM, so I bought a couple of 1GB memory modules to upgrade it. This certainly sped things up - for a couple of hours, then Windows crashed, giving me a blue screen saying it had shut down because of an error. I rebooted and tried running my antivirus program, but after a few minutes it crashed again. Once more I rebooted, and again it crashed after a few minutes. I replaced my old memory modules and everything was fine again, although slow. I assumed my new memory was faulty, but it occurs to me there may be another explanation…

Do memory modules have overheating issues? I ask because the first time, when I was starting from cold, the memory worked fine for at least two hours, suggesting the problem was heat-related. And if I can cool the laptop down somehow, will my new memory be OK, or is overheating likely to have damaged them?

If you recently installed Windows Search 4.0 through Windows Update try uninstalling it and see if that helps.

Get yourself an external usb hard drive. If you;'re not backing up your information regularly you’ll lose it when the HD will die. and it will die.

also, get more ram.