Why does my Hard drive spin for ages at startup?
August 8, 2010 7:44 AM   Subscribe

XP Hard-Drive Filter: When I turn my computer on, after it being off overnight, it starts up fine but the hard disk light is on for several minutes. Start-up time is normal, and desktop loads and computer is usable, can click on icons and open folders/start programs but they take ages to load/open - hard drive stays on at this point. When I use FF it slows it waaaay down. What could be causing this and how can I stop it please?

I installed Windows defender but removed it as it caused the computer to run slow, and i think it is completely gone now. No unusual processes showing in task manger.

I have automatic updates turned on and things are up to date. Use Avira for antivirus.

Searched the google and found various things, one about a KB update, but that was for vista. Couldn't find exact replication of problem anywhere.

It is a SATA drive, about 80G but half full.
posted by marienbad to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I may be misunderstanding the details of your problem, but at work the standard OS is (still) XP and those of us who do turn off our laptops before transporting them home and back each night experience what you describe. The desktop appears but everything you try and do takes a lot longer than (say) 15 minutes later. The hard disk light during this time shows "thrashing" which we attribute to the long list of installed programs waking up and trying to do their own housekeeping all at roughly the same time. At work we have no control over the number of things that start-up due to the limited rights we have on the machines.

It's kind of like what a retail store goes through first thing in the morning, but then things calm down until the customers show up and the work is more demand based as opposed to schedule based.

I believe if your PC is not plush with memory that you could then add disk accesses attributable to virtual memory requests to the mix.

There are various ways to cull out the programs launching at start-up and/or to delay their start-up to some number of minutes later. The down side, of course, is knowing what can wait and what can't. Msconfig is a program you can Start-Run which, in its Startup tab, will show you a list of what is launching at power on or after a reboot. Be careful about unchecking any boxes though.
posted by forthright at 8:03 AM on August 8, 2010

As forthright hinted, this is most likely caused by a lack of physical RAM in your computer. If you go into the task manager and click on "Performance" you will be able to see how much of your physical memory is being used up. Once your computer uses up all of its super-fast physical memory it will start using the super-slow hard drive memory as a replacement.

This leads to something callled "thrashing" where your computer spends most of it's time swapping information between physical RAM and the virtual RAM on your hard drive.

Your simple solution is to buy and install more memory for your computer. Your more complex solution is to use the task manager to find out what's eating up your memory and then stop those programs from starting when you boot your computer or uninstalling them altogether.

Here's a little bit more info for your reading pleasure.
posted by talkingmuffin at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2010

Do you have any scans scheduled to run at startup?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:15 AM on August 8, 2010

Most likely startup tasks like automatic update are slowing it down for the first couple of minutes. If the computer has an especially fragmented disk or has yesterday's hardware then you'll have performance issues, especially if something as lightweight at defender drags it down to a halt. Do a disk cleanup and defrag and see if it helps.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:54 AM on August 8, 2010

Do you do regular defrags of your hard drive? You could go to System Tools, select Disk Defragmenter, and at minimum run an analysis of your hard drive to see whether storage fragmentation is the culprit. The defragment anyway and see how long it takes.
If you're running XP on a box with <> Always try a good scrubbing with CCleaner, which is free, and wokrs wonders for XP boxes IME.
If none of the above works, yeh, I'd check whether you have antivirus settings for a comprehensive system scan. I don't know Avira, tl;dr their website, but antivirus startup routines are not the culprit they once were.
You could go to msconfig or even to check your environment variables ( I think on XP that's right-click My Computer, select Properties and Advanced, then click Environment Variables). But only do that to see what's there first.
Oh, and lastly, this is your home machine, right? I mean, this isn't a company machine that you bring home and have to start up with a domain password? Cos if it's the latter you will always have startup delays. Memail me or post to the thread with any other questions, good luck!
posted by nj_subgenius at 8:56 AM on August 8, 2010

The brackets above should have read 'less than 2G' or RAM...
posted by nj_subgenius at 8:57 AM on August 8, 2010

I don't know if it's "most" likely a lack of RAM, disk thrashing isn't the only possible explanation here. Frankly, I'd be looking in my Startup folder and Run keys in the registry. Installed software loves to run little agents and shit that fire up at boot.
posted by rhizome at 10:44 AM on August 8, 2010

I think people are overthinking a plate of beans here.

It's just all the crap that starts up when your computer starts up, trying to all load simultaneously. More RAM will most certainly not fix this, as it hasn't loaded into RAM to start with.

Go to Start -> Run, type msconfig. Go to your Startup tab. See all of that? That's all crap that loads when your computer starts, but not all of it. Get a program to clean up your startup items, and you'll be fine.

Or just let your computer sleep/hibernate instead.
posted by Rendus at 11:11 AM on August 8, 2010

It could be one of several things.

As Rendus says, it could be that you have a ton of stuff running at startup. A suitable application for analysing and reducing this stuff would be something like Soluto.

Could also be lack of RAM.

Could be a seriously fragmented hard disk. Or could be that your system hard disk is totally full.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:20 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Use autoruns (google it) and see what's activated at startup. Turn off some of it. See what happens.

My guess... disk indexing and antivirus software.

FWIW, the less XP, the better. Turn off all the special effects, come up with a backup strategy and follow it, and look into Windows Annoyances (google it), to better the box. The list of improvements possible in performance is rather large. Most folks are too lscared to try things. Just back up first and try some stuff.

No one alive who is more than a noob with XP doesn't have a list of 10 things he/she can't do without for XP and another 10 for improving performance. There are scores of '10 things to make XP better' lists. YMMV, but look into some of them to tweak your machine and I'll bet you can get to the bottom of this problem and also get a lot better performance from it.

I shan't send another farthing to Redmond, and have a very zippy and aging XP machine that will last until it dies, then be replaced with a Mac. The current machine will live on as a virtual machine in that Mac. My 5 year old single core XP box runs circles around any new Win7 box I have seen. Bloatware and feature excesses are to blame for most crap. Ask your computer to do less incompetence prevention and useless decorations and it will reward you by spending more time on the stuff you want to do.

Seconding Crap Cleaner (google it!) as a very useful piece of freeware.
posted by FauxScot at 1:50 PM on August 8, 2010

System specs would be very helpful here. How much RAM you have is the critical stat, IMO.
posted by Lukenlogs at 2:07 PM on August 8, 2010

Thanks for the advice guys, have deleted reg keys (Run etc) and disabled stuff from msconfig startup. will also defrag tonight.

Already have ccleaner. also Yes@lack of memory. The pc is old (a recon) and i rang a supplier to get more memory and the guy said they didn't do it for my make. will try again. (model=dell gx 260). Do i need it paired?

Not shure which answer to click as best as all are good value!
posted by marienbad at 2:12 PM on August 8, 2010

Plug your computer info into the memory finder at Crucial. They'll tell you what it can take and mail it to you for a good price.
posted by rhizome at 3:17 PM on August 8, 2010

Maximize your RAM first. Best investment for an aging box. Those old 260s are decent boxes, so you shouldn't be having this trouble.
posted by Lukenlogs at 11:34 PM on August 8, 2010

hey again

thanks for the advice and especially the AUTORUNS thing. installed and ran it but how do i kow what to delete?

sorry for being such a klutz!
posted by marienbad at 12:04 PM on August 25, 2010

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