What's wrong with my machine?
May 28, 2014 11:22 AM   Subscribe

I've got a 4 year old Windows desktop that I use for very few things: Metafilter (using either Chrome or Firefox), email (Thunderbird), Word, and NVivo (a qualitative analysis software). I also play Steam games on the machine occasionally. I went on vacation, and when I came back, the computer was - for lack of a better term - completely messed up.

The machine, which is an ASUS desktop running Windows 7, has performed well until now. It even has two video cards so that I can use two monitors simultaneously. I like the computer and don't want to have to get a new one - especially since I am really crushingly broke right now.

There are three problems with the machine. I have followed all of deezil's profile instructions on removing spyware/malware as best as I could. Nothing was turned up by any of these programs.

(1) When I turn it on, two command prompts show up after I've logged in to Windows. Closing either of the windows spawns a new window. This seems to have gone away since I went through the spyware/malware instructions I linked above. This was the first indicator that I had something wrong with the machine.

(2) It's incredibly slow. I'm using about 16% of my CPU when resting. It jumps up a lot whenever I open anything. Opening new tabs for web browsing in Chrome takes forever. This is not normal behavior for my machine. The fan sounds like it is running in overtime.

(3) When I can get it to run in Safe Mode (which is a trial itself - lots of times it just boots into Windows normally anyhow) it will shut itself off randomly. Because of this, I wasn't completely able to run all of the programs from deezil's profile in Safe Mode with Networking. I'm running them in Normal mode with my internet connection turned off. (That's another problem with the machine - when it turns on, I have to manually connect to my wifi now, as opposed to it just recognizing the Internet like it used to.)

My question is this:

What is wrong here? Do these behaviors sound familiar to anyone else? And is there anything that I should try that I have not yet tried already? I really, really need this computer to complete my dissertation (yes, everything is backed up, and I do not care if I lose all of my files to get this computer going again).

If I have to wipe off the machine and start anew, does anyone have any good solid instructions for how to go about this process? I'm afraid of doing this unless it's absolutely necessary.

If you think the machine can't be salvaged, can you recommend an incredibly inexpensive yet reliable desktop that will run Windows 7 (my qualitative analysis software does not appear to play nicely with Windows 8) that I can use two monitors with?

Thank you!
posted by sockermom to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you are having several different problems at the same time.

Just shutting off all by itself and fan running overtime are signs that you are having power supply problems. Replacements are cheap, $30-50.

All the problems with being slow and taking forever to open tabs are classic malware symptoms. It is good you are trying everyting from Deezil's list, but it sounds like you need to put as many malware removal programs as possible on a CD/Thumb and run them externally.

Having to manually connect to wifi can also be the result of malware. Pernicious malwares will mess with basic windows components like wifi connections and control panel functions. If this is the case, you will have to reformat and reload your OS.

Good luck,

posted by gnossos at 11:44 AM on May 28, 2014

The fan running at high speed and random shutdowns you mentioned could be the result of an overheating CPU. If the system detects an abnormally high temperature, it will often boost fan speed to cool things down; if/when that fails, an automatic shutdown can be triggered to prevent damage to the CPU.

Is it possible to open the case and verify whether the fan running at high speed is from the cooler on the CPU or one of the two video cards? If it is indeed the fan on the CPU cooler, check the cooler- are the fins on the cooler reasonably clean, or are they encrusted with hair/dust/etc.? After shutting the system down, you can check the fan blades to ensure they are in good working order as well. As a final step (should you feel comfortable), you could try removing the CPU cooler, cleaning it, reapplying thermal transfer compound, and re-installing the cooler.

Good luck!
posted by EKStickland at 12:04 PM on May 28, 2014

Speaking of the fan running hard and shutting down, have you attempted to clean out any dust that might be in the case or on the fans? I'm not suggesting that's your own problem but it is often a contributor of the fan running hard.
posted by mmascolino at 12:11 PM on May 28, 2014

Response by poster: Yes, the anti-malware programs I am running from a thumb drive as per deezil's instructions. I downloaded them on a squeaky clean machine and used a brand-new thumb drive (I don't have access to a CD burner, unfortunately).

I'm happy to reformat and reinstall Windows. Does anyone have a good link to instructions on how to do that?

I'll also open up the case and use some compressed air to clean off the fan. I live in a dusty apartment and haven't done that in awhile.

Thanks for the tips so far.
posted by sockermom at 12:14 PM on May 28, 2014

Yeah, sounds like a classic wipe-and-reimage situation. If you have your windows CD, you should be able to just boot off it, and at some point there will be a disk manager type thing where you can delete the existing partition and then create a new partition of the same size in the same place.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:18 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How well protected was your machine from a power spike? I wonder if a few things might have gotten scrambled during a thunderstorm while you were away (ie. the power supply; but maybe also some key system files in Windows, since some of your symptoms sound like Windows has been corrupted in some way).
posted by aught at 12:20 PM on May 28, 2014

It could be malware or a hardware problem, but all signs point to the former. Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

When I do this, I just save a copy of C:\Users\neckro (or whatever your username is) and sort out the mess later. If you care about your saved games I'd back up Steam\userdata too. Unless you've been stashing files in weird places that should cover it. Thunderbird (and most other apps) keeps its data in C:\Users\[user]\AppData, somewhere. Treat these files as tainted, be very careful copying them back to your new system.

Maybe first try booting a Linux live DVD of some sort (Ubuntu probably) to see what happens. If Linux runs fine off the DVD, that points at malware too.
posted by neckro23 at 2:51 AM on May 29, 2014

Response by poster: Ok, I nuked the machine and didn't really need to back up any data - that's all on the cloud.

That really helped. Until Windows started throwing a "your hard drive is dying" message at me every five minutes. Ran chkdsk and yeah, the harddrive was failing. So who knows if it ever was a virus or if it was just the drive slowly failing and not telling me that when I was running chkdsk previously.

The new harddrive came in tonight and I think it will be right as rain when it's done.

Thanks for all the suggestions.
posted by sockermom at 4:53 PM on June 27, 2014

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