Please help diagnose my PC's performance problems!
December 12, 2016 9:09 AM   Subscribe

I have a desktop computer that I built myself a couple of years ago. 8 GB RAM, 3.5 Ghz AMD processor, Windows 8. (Can probably provide most of the other specs if that would be useful.) Suddenly I'm having all kinds of performance problems with it.

My PC runs loud - I think much louder than it used to, but I don't know if I'm imagining it. I'm frequently at 80% RAM usage or 100% CPU usage when all I have open is a bunch of browser tabs, MS Word, and Spotify; the browsers seem to be the biggest culprits (just now 12 Firefox tabs were using 83% of my CPU!) but I'm having the same problems whether I use Chrome or Firefox. I can figure out which tabs are taking up the most memory, but really... it's not unreasonable to have Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail all open at the same time, right? I've triple-checked for viruses and malware.

Possibly relevant detail: I moved in November of last year and August of this year, and between November and August the computer sat unused.

I'm ready to just buy some extra RAM and cross my fingers, but am I right in thinking there's something off about this? (It's freezing up just as I'm typing this question!) And how can I go about figuring out what's going on? Assume fairly advanced amateur computer skills.
posted by Jeanne to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it overheating? Have you cleaned out the lint and dust recently? Does the thermal paste need to be replaced?
posted by yeahlikethat at 9:18 AM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just FYI, there's absolutely nothing wrong with 80% RAM usage. That means you could be using even more. It's a common misconception that near maxed out RAM usage means more RAM is needed.

Sounds to me like you've go something else going on if the CPU usage is constantly 100%. But without more info, hard to say what.

If it was my machine, I'd back up my data and reinstall Windows first.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:26 AM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, my first thought was did you backup and reinstall Windows? Things get messed up over the years and reinstalling cleans up a lot of bugs. Plus it's faster than going through the computer to figure out what ONE thing is making it wonky (usually it will be multiple tiny issues that add up).
posted by littlesq at 9:39 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Try deleting / deactiviating the Flash plug-in from Firefox. When I've similar issues with the fan running constantly it always seems to be a website using flash.
posted by COD at 9:46 AM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

A faulty CPU fan (with accompanying throttling) might cause the symptoms you are describing.
posted by Poldo at 9:50 AM on December 12, 2016

I was having similar issues this summer; I ended up needing to reseat the heat sink. I bought a larger, faster fan than the one that came with the CPU. When I disconnected the CPU from the heat sink fan, I discovered that all the thermal paste had completely flaked away. Since replacing the fan and reseating the heatsink all my performance issues have gone away and my CPU is running MUCH cooler. I used hwmonitor to measure system temperatures.
posted by matcha action at 10:04 AM on December 12, 2016

Yep, my bet's on the CPU cooling, but you could probably rule software out first, cheaply, by maybe booting from a live linux thumb drive or similar to see how the computer performs (CPU usage, etc) first.
posted by destructive cactus at 10:08 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Last time I moved, my heat sink fell off. It's worth opening up to make sure everything looks OK.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:15 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Using 6GB of RAM is not normal if you're using a single web browser. 80% CPU usage is not normal usage for web browsing.

I agree with the others, including COD above:
1. Disable Flash and see what that gets you.
2. Use Ad Blocking software. Interactive/animated ads can do crazy things to memory and CPU usage.
3. Make sure that Windows is recognizing all of your CPU cores. If it thinks you have a one core CPU and it's actually four, that would make your CPU usage seem higher than it is. To do this, open Task Manager, click More Details to expand it, the the Performance tab. Right click the CPU graph and choose Change Graph to and then Logical Processors. If you don't see multiple graphs, there might be an issue recognizing the CPU. Download drivers for your motherboard to fix this issue.
4. Check to see what browser extensions you're running. Some have memory leaks or other problems. Too many extensions can cause the issues you're talking about. You can also create a new "Person" or Profile in your browser and use that for a while with no extensions, disabled flash, just adblock, etc. If that solves the problem, it's something in your browser config. (Probably extensions).
5. Make sure all of your fans are actually running (you can do this visually) by just opening the case, though I don't think this is the issue.
6. Download and run HWMONITOR to make sure the temperatures are within reason. I don't think this is the issue either.
posted by cnc at 11:53 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I upgraded a W7 laptop to W10 (it was a bad idea), I had an issue where 100% of the CPU was being used. I researched it, and it was a common problem with Windows 8. I fixed it by following the directions and disabling a bunch of things. So I would check out W8 forums about it, for sure.

I myself had to buy a new computer.
posted by My Dad at 11:54 AM on December 12, 2016

It's never fun to wipe a drive and reinstall Windows (plus everything else) but it really is one of the best things you can do for yourself, fairly regularly. After a reboot, which solves 70% of all computer problems, a rebuild solves another 20%.

The last 10% is hardware and the sort of symptoms you report are likely to do with overheating. Pop the case off and check that the CPU and GPU fans are not clogged with dust and cat hair, and even if they're not, they are, so pop them off and blast compressed air through them, because it's very satisfying. While you're doing that, get some fresh thermal paste onto the processing units.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:17 PM on December 12, 2016

Are you running Windows 10 now, or still on 8? Because when I switched my old desktop to 10 the CPU would have these periodic spikes up to 100%, freezing any audio, video, spreadsheet, or whatever I was doing. I tried everything in the book (including a reinstall and posing a question on AskMeFi). Nothing worked. Damn thing is sitting under my desk now, gathering dust.
posted by Ber at 8:36 AM on December 13, 2016

I realized belatedly that I shouldn't ask this question right at the end of the semester while doing 8 different things that prevented me from taking my computer out of commission!

It's definitely overheating, although all the fans are working fine and I'm cleaning it out with compressed air on a regular basis. Will check the thermal paste situation and see about reinstalling Windows when I'm back from Christmas break. (I can boot into Linux as well so I should be able to figure out if it's a hardware problem or a software problem, but I would be unsurprised if the thermal paste turned out to be cooked, since I've been using it in similar conditions to matcha action above.)
posted by Jeanne at 9:24 AM on December 18, 2016

Finally an update: I was disassembling the CPU fan so that I could reapply thermal paste, and discovered that the heat sink under the fan was absolutely clogged with dust. After a cleaning I'm getting better performance and lower temperatures.
posted by Jeanne at 10:49 AM on February 11, 2017

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