Svchost.exe making computer unusable
June 17, 2012 2:08 AM   Subscribe

Svchost.exe and Wuaudt.exe are eating up the memory of my gf's computer, making it so slow that it becomes unusable. What are they and how do we stop them? Backstory inside.

My girlfriend's PC has been hernia-inducingly slow for a long time. About a month ago, we reformatted the hard drive and reinstalled the OS (Windows XP Home). This fixed things - it seemed, but just a couple of weeks later, the computer is just as slow as before. It has more or less become unusable. The hard drive grinds and grinds. After booting up, with no programs running, there is almost no available memory (RAM) - two processes called Svchost.exe and Wuaudt.exe, are using all of it. (Or perhaps it's Wuauclt.exe, the letters are hard to distinguish.)

Why do they start automatically, and how do we stop them from using up all the available memory? I know there are lots of computer advice sites out there - more or less trustworthy - but I've always gotten good advice from AskMe before, so I wanted to ask you.
posted by Termite to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
svchost is short for "service host" and is one of the pieces of software machinery that keeps the OS running. wuaudt.exe is related to the windows update service.

It's hard to say what exactly is going wrong with the computer, but those two programs eating up ram is a symptom rather than a cause.

Hopefully someone else will have ideas on the cause.

Good luck!
posted by kavasa at 2:42 AM on June 17, 2012

this could indicate a virus. Grab a copy of avast for home.
posted by the noob at 2:56 AM on June 17, 2012

Funny rant in the middle - more informative of how people have been fixing this in different ways. Sounds like a case where many things can cause the same effect but :

In this link MS will try to fix via a pop up.

Lastly - the reformat failing sounds like hardware - if this is hardware (crazy ram gone bad) test against a live Linux boot CD like Ubuntu. Or if you want to see something cool -Jolicloud. Or tiny XP.
posted by epjr at 2:56 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The free Microsoft tool Process Explorer (which you have to download and install separately) will show you which Windows services correspond to each svchost process, how much RAM is taken up by the process, and which DLLs are loaded by it. Then, you can control whether individual services auto-start in the Windows services control panel which I think you can get to by Start → Run "services.msc" or if that doesn't work Start → Run "msconfig" and that tool has a "Services" tab if this is Windows XP Service Pack 3.

Windows Update should have all sorts of settings allowing you to control when and how often it runs. (Note, though, that after reinstalling the OS it will have to run continuously for quite a while to download all of the updates that have been released since your install disk was made.)
posted by XMLicious at 4:36 AM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I've see wuauclt.exe do that before. Happened on a bunch of the school computers I netadmin. It seems to be related to corruption in the Windows Update database, which can happen for all sorts of reasons.

The way I fixed it is pretty brutal, but I believe the only undesirable side effect is loss of the ability to review a list of applied updates using the Windows Update web site, which as far as I know nobody except me has ever bothered to do in the entire history of Windows use so it's not actually too bad of a thing.

If you want to try my method, you can do it reasonably non-destructively at first. Open a cmd window (Start->Run, type cmd in the Run box and hit Enter) and enter the following commands in sequence:

net stop wuauserv
rename C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution SoftwareDistribution-renamed
net start wuauserv

The first command stops the Windows Automatic Updates service, releasing the locks it holds on C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution and its subfolders. The second command renames that folder to a name that Windows won't recognize. The third command starts the Automatic Updates service again; it will create a new, clean, empty SoftwareDistribution folder.

If that fixes the problem (leave it go for a couple of weeks to make sure) then you can delete C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution-renamed. If it makes no difference, you can put things back exactly as they were before you started by running the following commands in a cmd window:

net stop wuauserv
rmdir /s C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution
rename C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution-renamed SoftwareDistribution
net start wuauserv

That rmdir /s command wipes out the new SoftwareDistribution folder, and the rename puts back the old one.
posted by flabdablet at 6:54 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, if you've got a big USB stick (8GB is enough unless you're going to do this for all versions of Windows plus all versions of Office, in which case you will want 16GB) you can put WSUS Offline Update on it, and use that to collect local copies of the vast bulk of what your computer will pull in via Automatic Updates or Microsoft Update after a reinstall. If you're going to make reinstalling Windows one of your standard Windows admin techniques, this can save you a lot of bandwidth and time.
posted by flabdablet at 6:59 AM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

You need to start with the hardware side of things. Specifically by running a hard drive test and if that passes then a memory test. What sort of computer is this? If it's an HP, Dell or IBM/Lenovo then there are usually easily available hardware diagnostic utilities, sometimes built into the BIOS or Utility Partition and sometimes downloadable from their web sites.

Also lots of hard drive churn can be indicative of too little free hard drive space.

After you have eliminated the above then I would start looking at the software side of things.
posted by dgeiser13 at 8:11 AM on June 17, 2012

What I saw on the school computers (and several customer computers, now I think of it) was wuauclt.exe eating so much RAM that Windows was forced to use the page file all the time, making it horribly unresponsive. There was no hardware fault, and killing the (presumably corrupted) SoftwareDistribution folder fixed it straight away. This is a much quicker thing to try than endless speculative hardware tests, and if done by renaming SoftwareDistribution rather than deleting it outright, fully reversible.
posted by flabdablet at 8:17 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: flabdablet: thanks, your advice seems like a good solution. I'll try it first.
posted by Termite at 2:46 AM on June 18, 2012

just a clue which points at hardware : reinstalling the OS on a formatted drive is the same as stopping the service or renaming it - they tried this - but it did not solve the problem.
posted by epjr at 3:12 AM on June 18, 2012

> endless speculative hardware tests

That might be a stretch. I was recommending running one hard drive test which takes about 30-40 minutes and a few passes on a software memory test. Far from endless.
posted by dgeiser13 at 1:50 PM on June 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers! We finally had enough and replaced this 8+ year old computer with a new onne.
posted by Termite at 4:39 AM on June 20, 2012

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