Windows 8.1 freezes for a half-second periodically, why and how to fix?
February 13, 2015 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, I started noticing that Windows is freezing for maybe a half-second every minute or so. Ordinarily it's not noticeable, but during videos or games it causes sound to catch for the duration ("...and so the solution to the pRRRRRRRoblem is..."), and sometimes video playback to glitch. Anyone have an idea what's going on?

The problem started occurring a couple of days ago. I'm running Windows 8.1 Pro on a Dell Inspiron laptop.
Testing moving the mouse in circles during video playback has allowed me to confirm that the system, or at least the mouse cursor, is frozen during the moments in question, not just the audio and video.
I updated audio and graphics drivers today and the problem remains.
Searching Google hasn't been helpful, I don't know enough about the problem to query precisely enough to get an answer.
Particularly, some years ago I had a similar problem with another machine, and ultimately the problem only went away when I reformatted and reinstalled. I'm anxious about the prospect of going through that again.

If I can't find anything less invasive, my next step is refreshing Windows 8, which would require reinstalling a lot of software and I'd like to avoid. Any ideas as to what could be the problem here? The only change I've made to my system in the past couple of days was a little putzing around in Task Scheduler to change when Windows Defender does quick scans, to a time when I'm not usually using the machine.
posted by JHarris to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you tried using the task monitor processes tab with the list sorted by CPU to see what is happening? You can also use the resource monitor (click the advanced option in the performance tab of the task manager) to see what is happening.

Typically these kinds of things are either anti-virus related or memory paging in my experience.
posted by srboisvert at 3:20 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you have a hard drive or ssd? There's a couple conditions that either could be causing weird pauses.

Maybe overheating? If the fan died/clogged with dust, I find this unlikely. You can monitor CPU temperature & speed by apps.

Background processes running? Sysinternals(owned by Microsoft) process explorer is a very technical but good look at what your system us doing. Enable process and & io history graphs (columns) and maybe you can catch the culprit.
posted by TheAdamist at 3:24 PM on February 13, 2015

Download Process Explorer. Run it to see and if need be, kill, whatever processes may be causing issues.
posted by Splunge at 3:26 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

May also be worth updating your drivers. I had this issue on a computer with a SSD installed, and it was a rogue Intel motherboard driver attempting to hibernate the drive when it shouldn't.
posted by mikeh at 3:50 PM on February 13, 2015

@srboisvert Has it. Use Task Manager to see if your CPU is spiking to 100% or if your used memory is more than the memory in the computer.

You might also look at the Disk section of Resource Monitor to see if something is hitting your disk really hard.

Eliminate those first, then go from there. Another possibility is that you have a failing hard drive and it's hitting bad sectors. If that's the case, the pausing will get worse, and will eventually turn to crashing.
posted by cnc at 4:07 PM on February 13, 2015

I had similar-sounding problems with my brand new laptop when the secondary hard drive would spin down and then things would pause while spinning up. You can change the settings for the hard drive sleeping by going to Control Panel\Hardware and Sound\Power Options\Edit Plan Settings -> Change advanced plan settings -> Hard Disk -> Turn off hard disk after

Set it to "Never" for a while and see if keeps happening.
posted by ropeladder at 4:13 PM on February 13, 2015

Response by poster: Gosh, I don't know why I didn't try this first, sorry--

I used System Restore to go back a week (to the 5th) and the problem went away.

That doesn't mean whatever caused the problem won't happen again (it might have been a system update), and it provides no insight into its cause. It seems to me that I remember issues like this happening, spontaneously, before.

For the future, it seems unlikely to have been a hard drive issue because it happens very regularly, whether the hard drive is in heavy access or not. This also makes me suspect it's not a memory paging issue or overheating, since the problem happens with suspicious regularity.
posted by JHarris at 4:50 PM on February 13, 2015

You mentioned system restore producing good results - out of co-incidence I had a very similar set of issues this week after the latest round of windows updates, I had to use Acronis to roll back a few days before things came right. I suspect it was an AMD driver update that got me.

If you have restored your system and you have any pending windows updates, hold off them for a week or so in the event it is an update issue (they normally fix this stuff or remove the deployment fairly promptly).

If you do this process then still have issues, and you're sure its not hardware related - like people have suggested, monitor the resource tracking in task manager and see if anything is smashing your IO or virtual memory, there's only limited conditions that should cause an outright freeze in windows, normally IO related (at least in my experience).

If you've had this before consider what software you use and if any of them have background update processes, might regularly do heavy IO, might have a lot of file activity that ties up the antivirus or anything along those lines.
posted by zedgoat at 5:42 PM on February 13, 2015

Response by poster: When things like this have happened before, Task Manager has never been of any use in tracking it down. The fact that a rollback stopped the issue implies the problem was in software, and that it happens even right after a reboot that it wasn't a resource or RAM problem.
posted by JHarris at 9:42 PM on February 13, 2015

I don't work for them or anything, but I do like their product.

Check out Process Lasso by Bitsum. It looks for applications or processes that seem to be impacting responsiveness, and then automatically deprioritizes them until the worst is over.

There's a free trial so I would give it a shot.
posted by Samizdata at 12:11 AM on February 14, 2015

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