OS... reinstall
February 16, 2006 5:41 PM   Subscribe

My computer, a 2 year old Dell Dimension 4600, is pretty sick... and in a general state of decline.

I never had problems until I installed SP2 when it first came out, and system restore fixed that, by getting rid of SP2. Well Micro$oft convinced me that I had to have SP2, so I re-installed (for the third time) about a month ago and had the same crap all over again.

This time I was determined to beat it and, because it only showed up after I went online, I assumed it was a Spyware problem... so I added Webroot’s spyware program to my arsenal of Norton Securities, Spyware Doctor, etc. Webroot temporarily solved the problem, but Norton seems to hate Webroot, and keeps fucking with it until its disabled... then things get worse. Norton doesn’t kill Spyware Doctor... only cripples it.

A day with only one crash is a good one. I’m not the sharpest tack in the box computerwise, but I suspect that I installed SP2 with some kind of mallware onboard. The situation is steadily deteriorating and I fear that a re-install is in order. Should I go to Best Buy and buy a new OS with SP2 included?

Norton has to go. I hope that I can get thru a re-install via Dell/Microsoft online FAQ, or whatever. Help........
posted by Huplescat to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Don't buy a new copy of your OS. Just try reinstalling. First the OS, then SP2, and then Norton. Do this all without connecting to the internet.

SP2: you should be ready to install it from a CD. Create the XP SP2 disk from a computer that is not troublesome. The location to download stand alone SP2 updater is: here at Microsoft Download Center.

Once SP2 is installed, make sure the firewall which is built in is active. Connect to the internet and use Windows Update to install the rest of the needed security patches. This reinstall method results in a similiar outcome to buying a new copy of XP.
posted by voidcontext at 5:59 PM on February 16, 2006

Also, having multiple programs scanning for adware at the same time will be a performance hit. You could choose one to watch for new infestations, and set the others to run scans periodically.
posted by voidcontext at 6:01 PM on February 16, 2006

I think you need to start with the basics, before deciding an operating system re-install is what is required. At 2 years of age, I wonder if your machine is overdue for a thorough cleaning, and hardware inspection/verification. Dust can build up surprisingly on hardware, and trap heat, which will cause all kinds of oddball problems. Take the box covers off, get a vacuum cleaner and a can of air, and get medieval on it. Pay attention to the processor heatsink, the power supply, and any inlet air vents where dust builds up. Verify that your fans are turning. Check that all your cards are seated properly, and all your internal cables and connectors are on firmly. Finally, when everything is clean and physically inspected, put the covers back on, and download and install the free Speedfan utility to check that your system temperatures are within normal tolerances. It wouldn't be a bad idea to download and run Dell's hardware diagnostics, either.

Next, anytime a pattern of crashes is occurring on a Windows XP box, it's common practice to run heavy memory diagnostics, particularly memtest86 to verify that you don't have something flaky in memory. About 50% of blue screen crashes in Windows XP systems turn out to be memory related, so you want to be thorough in checking this out. If memory isn't the problem, you may have some driver issues that are throwing unhandled exceptions. It's worth working through the blue screens to find out if you are consistently getting one or two errors like those in the linked example, which might be easily fixed by driver replacements, or similar activities.

SP2 is unlikely to be the source of your problems, by itself, but if you do decide to reload Windows, just for the heck of it, make sure you first have the Dell drivers you need.
posted by paulsc at 6:14 PM on February 16, 2006

More is not always better. As you have seen, the various third-party "protectors" can squabble amongst themselves, and the increased protection overlap is dubious. I've also seen stability issues with Norton Internet Security and don't trust the damn thing -- I have one machine with a copy of Norton remaining and seldom reboot for anything other than critical updates, except when Norton decides to misbehave in one fashion or another.

Here's what I would try if memory tests and spring cleaning have no effect: I recommend going back to a minimal third-party services setup until you establish that you have a stable machine. Don't use any unnecessary, cute or cool programs which load at startup for a little while. Right now it's almost impossible to say whether you have a driver conflict, a security program conflict, memory faults, a nasty spyware infestation, or, well, any of a lot of potential gremlins. You need to try and strip things down to the basics of what works and then move forward, so problems can be detected as they are introduced.

If you can trust yourself not to open e-mail attachments, or browse into unsafe areas, for at least a few day's test period you could try uninstalling all those security programs and only turning on the XP firewall (or do a clean reinstall, although that's a bit drastic). Those security programs really do burrow everywhere, working at a low-level which can directly affect stability. Browse with Firefox if you can; currently it is slightly less vulnerable than IE to spyware. I would not recommend immediately reinstalling Norton until you have verified you have an otherwise stable machine. Once you established the presence of a stable system, then you can reinstall the extras one at a time, checking system behavior as you go.

In another life, I did a lot of technical support and unfortunately found it's hard to use this style of communication to squeeze in all the back-and-forth information needed for a proper resolution in a timely and efficient manner. If you have further questions that you think might work better in real-time, you can e-mail me to check my availability for an instant message/chat session to walk through your computer issue. These type of questions in Ask Meta are often frustrating because the "post, wait for a response, repeat" format can become quite suboptimal, particularly given the mayfly-like active lifespan of each.
posted by mdevore at 7:15 PM on February 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for your advise. Its all valuable and new to me and I just tried to print this page but I got a script error.

Paulsc... I’m not getting blue screen crashes. Everything just freezes up. Then, when I punch Ctrl/Shift/Esc, the dialog box shows the same non-responding program in duplicate. Could this be a hyper-threading issue? I’m in over my head here.
posted by Huplescat at 8:35 PM on February 16, 2006

I bought a Dell 4700 last year and was appalled at the amount of crap that comes pre-installed and runs in the background from day one. If you can get all your data off the machine (do it twice), I'd suggest doing a reinstall of just XP. Then go directly online & get SP2. Then skip all the Norton crapola and go with something less invasive (I use the free AVG antivirus) and the Windows firewall. You'll be amazed at how much faster and stable the computer is.
posted by words1 at 9:22 PM on February 16, 2006

Applications can become non-responsive for a lot of reasons, but hyper-threading on Intel processors shouldn't contribute significantly to the frequency of such problems. If you saw some correlation in Windows Task Manager between the hangs you are getting and processor utilization, you might have some reason to investigate this, but short of turning off hyperthreading in BIOS, there isn't much you can do about this.

SP2 introduced a fix for the "ghost window" feature of Windows XP that is covered in KB 817611, and you may want to read that to see if it pertains to problems you are having. But that may not be meaningful to you, or may not describe the situation you think you are having.

Here is a Gateway Support article that offers good general advice about isolating the causes of application soft lockups. Generally, what they are saying is that anything that is frequently accessed, especially when much of the machine hardware is in operation, is a prime candidate for investigation when trying to solve lockup issues. A good suspect for many of these kinds of problems are anti-virus programs, because they are constantly running as TSR programs, and also are constantly pulling additional processor cycles on every disk read or write. If your anti-virus program isn't happy, your machine isn't going to be happy, but the problem usually isn't the anti-virus program itself.

My experience with Symantec products over more than 15 years as a PC user and network admin is pretty good. And most of the largest commercial and governmental organizations use Symantec to protect millions of PC's every day. Installed immediately on top of a good OS installation, and kept up to date, most commercial anti-virus products, including Symantec, do a good job, with minimal overhead on modern PC's. In cases where you are getting lots of alerts or issues that are apparently coming from your anti-virus package, it's usually a good idea to make sure that the package is actually completely up to date, and that it's settings don't conflict with other parts of the OS or applications.

For example, if you had Norton Internet Security on your machine at SP1, had its firewall enabled, and it failed to download and install all the required updates for Symevent, Symantec Redirector, or Shared Components during a normal LiveUpdate process (which I've seen happen), and then you installed SP2 without correcting these issues, turned on the SP2 firewall, and then installed Webroot, I could see you having a lot of problems, as Norton is not working with a consistent set of internal library routines. The solution is to get NIS updated, and playing with SP2 properly. You may need to delete and reinstall Norton, but before I did that, I'd force a couple of LiveUpdate cycles manually, with NIS firewall off, and SP2 firewall on, and then make sure all your other scanners are disabled, until you see if things are going to work stably, or not.

Simplify your situation as much as you can, and work methodically.
posted by paulsc at 10:17 PM on February 16, 2006

One thing that can speed up your installs and make them safer is to make a new "slipstream" install disk that combines your original Windows install CD and all the patches and security updates to date.

This is a lot easier than it sounds. A (free!) program like nLite will walk you through creating an image that you burn to CD and use as your new, robust install disk. It's pretty straightforward. I update my Windows install disk every six months, just to make sure that if I set up a new machine, or have to install, that it's pretty up-to-date from the get-go.
posted by meehawl at 8:19 AM on February 17, 2006

another solution would be to reinstall windows and then use autopatcher. it'll automatically install all the hotfixes and service packs you need so that, combined with windows firewall, you'll be pretty safe once you connect to the internet.

and like paulsc said, make sure you download and burn a copy of the dell drivers you need before you do any reinstalling.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:18 AM on February 17, 2006

Response by poster: Many thanks to everyone for the tribal tutorial. I have my can of high priced air from Radio Shack and I take the plunge tomorrow... starting with a good cleanup.

For whatever its worth, I never did describe the initial annoying symptoms that made me suspect SP2 after I installed it three times and stayed with it once and for all before everything started running downhill.

The same thing happened every time I installed it. Typing in Wordperfect turned into a sort of “Whack a Mole” game... I’m not a touch typist so, unless I wanted a random cut and paste effect ( a la early William Borroughs ) I had to check the screen every few words to see where the cursor had drifted off to and whack it back

This only happened after I went online, and persisted after a disconnect. If I restarted without going online it went away. Once, when I was working Wordperfect online, I said something about Sad man Who’s insane or Oblama Bin Estee Lauden, or something to that effect, and the “Whack a Mole” thing evaporated like a bad dream. All of a sudden Wordperfect ran free and clear.

Naturaly, I got incredibly pissed and launched a vitriolic tirade against the usual suspects ( best not to name names) and got a clear five hour session. When I logged on the next morning, everything was back to screwed up normal.
posted by Huplescat at 5:13 PM on February 17, 2006

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