Can Windows be configured to combat processor-hogging applications?
May 3, 2006 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to "reserve" a certain % of the processor for Windows, no matter how much any individual application requests?

Lately, when opening a few tabs in FireFox, or a few web-sides GIFs in Photoshop, while having my email client, Trillian, and iTunes or Rhapsody open, every once in a while one of my applications decides to go rogue and demand 99% of the processor, causing incredible slowdowns in all other applications, including the OS.

My machine has a more-than-ample processor, 2gb of RAM, a nearly-fresh XP installation, and should be able to easily handle most all the programs I'd choose to open at any given time, but once one of the apps (not always the same one, btw) gets "greedy", I can barely "track" the mouse. I get 2-3 second delays between typing characters on the keyboard and when they appear on the screen. The steps it takes to open the Task Mangler take, on average, a full excrutiating minute, to find and kill the guilty process. Not to mention, this generates a lot of lost work.

One question is: is my condition unique? I'm not running beta software or sketchy shareware I would EXPECT periodic bug-induced freezing from. And is there any reason Firefox should require 50% of my processor, minimized, when it isn't DOING anything except holding on to a few static web pages? (Please don't say "get a Mac"; it's not an option in my case)

Anyway, the REAL point of this question is: Since I can't go to the programmers responsible for every application on my PC and ring some necks, is there a way I can tell Windows to max out the processor allocation it gives to any individual application, so at least if there IS a memory-hogging problem, the machine isn't so crippled trying to accomodate it that I can't troubleshoot the problem?
posted by stuckie to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you have other issues at hand. While i've had my proc pegged at times, the mouse never slows down. You should do some RAM tests.
posted by cellphone at 5:14 PM on May 3, 2006

Also, start killing processes and run for a while without one of them running. You might have that one rogue app causing the slow down, as well. It's tricky to track down problems like this. Good luck.
posted by cellphone at 5:15 PM on May 3, 2006

The short answer is that no, you can't create a theoretical maximum CPU threshold on a per-process basis, at least in any easily manageable way I've heard of. Windows allows you to set process priority, but that doesn't help you launch into Task Manager any easier.

I've had this problem as well, and it's beyond obnoxious. The system would hardcore freeze for 3-5 seconds, then become usable for 2-3 seconds, then freeze again. It was the most excruciating thing I've experienced in XP.

I'm not sure what the root cause was, but I can easily see memory or page file size perhaps having *some* impact, but if you must know, it could likely be a *not*-so-fresh XP install. I would reformat entirely and reinstall what you are positive is a working copy of XP. (I just had a nightmare experience with a bad XP off a torrent site that was poorly hacked together and missing components that were critical.)

Fortunately, I have a dual core, but lately, I've had occasional troubles with a runaway svchost.exe process. It'll max out one of my cores entirely, which is just plain wasteful.

I know "format" isn't the best of advice, but it's the only way you can ensure your XP install isn't completely ruinous and causing you problems.

Upgrade Firefox to the latest version, but I've noticed if I had run some page that required a heavy CPU plugin (Flash, some Java) and then closed those tabs, FF gets a bit overeager with CPU usage even after closing it. Not all the time, but it's happened.

Changing process priority (right click on the process in the task manager, choose Set Priority) to Low or BelowNormal will force the offending process to instantly bow to any other incoming request for CPU cycles your machine puts through. Note: NEVER set the process priority to Real-Time or High, unless you want to reproduce or make worse the exact issue you're describing.

Note that you won't be able to lower process priority on certain system processes, like svchost.

Good luck.
posted by disillusioned at 5:22 PM on May 3, 2006

Definetly reinstall. It's very likely to be a bad device driver or your Windows install getting crufty. I literally doubled performance in Half Life 2 with my last reinstall. *sigh*

RAM could definitely be an issue. It's also easy to check with memtest86+.

If all of Windows freezes, it's might also be a Windows-level problem triggered or initiated by an application.

Case in point: I helped out a machine that was completely freezing up every 10 minutes or so. Bearshare was using only 10% of the CPU, but Windows itself was using the rest, dealing with all the network connections Bearshare was asking it to open.

Also recently, my not completely infallible mac had two apps frozen and unkillable on it. I discovered later that they wouldn't close because my hard disk's filesystem had errors and they were trying to write some data (Disk Utility fixed them, thankfully). Again, a problem at the system level reveled/triggered by an application.
posted by easyasy3k at 5:35 PM on May 3, 2006

Response by poster: I did do a fresh clean install of Windows XP less than a month ago, and I am up-to-date with FireFox. I drive my machine pretty hard, and I get periodic slow, processor-grabbing applications on my machines at both home and work, from time to time. It could be drivers; it could be simple usage, it could be most anything. Sometimes when testing pages, I'll have 12 apps open at once, a couple of them media players, but I'd thought having a superfast computer should be able to counterbalance this...

Disillusioned, your post made me think I might check out my FireFox plugins, specifically, though, to make sure one of them might not be contributing to the specific Firefox slowness I'm experiencing - I'lll go through those once I get home from work tonight..

But to be honest, I have pretty much given up on troubleshooting the actual CAUSE of the slowness, as I'm just resigned that that kind of thing is just going to "happen" from time to time, no matter what. I was just hoping there was a way I could at least instruct Windows to police the processor a little, so that if and when these things happen, I'm able to at least move around the OS on more than a fraction of a percentage of the CPU usage.
posted by stuckie at 5:46 PM on May 3, 2006

Response by poster: Apparently "reinstall Windows" is the new "reboot and try again" :)

Not to sidetrack the thread, but... would rolling back to a safe Windows "restore point" work as well as a reinstall?

I'm just not particularly anxious to start a precedent of having to rebuild my machine from scratch every month...
posted by stuckie at 5:52 PM on May 3, 2006

Just as a suggestion for something to try:

Right-click "My Computer"; select the "Advanced" tab.
Press the Performance "Settings" button.
In the new popup, select the "Advanced" tab.
Under "Processor Scheduling", select "background services" instead of the default "programs".

It might help. (It might not.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:07 PM on May 3, 2006

Oh, by the way; you have to be logged in as administrator to do that.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:07 PM on May 3, 2006

Having said that, my guess is you have an out-of-control driver. When I've had this kind of problem, it's usually been USB 2 that did it to me.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:09 PM on May 3, 2006

For what it's worth, I have massive CPU troubles with firefox on two completely different machines, so I consider firefox in the category of "beta software or sketchy shareware".
(In my cases however, the problem is usually when returning from hibernation - firefox maxes out the CPU doing nothing and does so before the login prompt appears, so it takes forever to login, which defeats the whole point of hibernating. I'm now getting in the habit of closing firefox before I hibernate)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:48 PM on May 3, 2006

Actually, I have found iTunes to be the big offender here. It's not well written, and not well behaved on Windows. I find it frequently seizes focus, hammers CPU, etc.

Now, on to the good part: one thing to check after episodes of seizing is your event logs, both Application and System. When things aren't running well, I sometimes see evidence of which application or service is choking here.

Try this: on your Desktop or in Explorer, right click on My Computer and choose "Manage". In this new window, expand "Event Viewer" in the tree on the left. Now click on Application or System to review the events recorded.

It helps to start with a clean slate. Clear the events first, then wait for your problems to begin occuring and go back and reivew these lists for events time-stamped near when your problems occur. Look for Errors or Warnings, or even just lots of notification events where you don't expect them.
posted by Dunwitty at 2:35 AM on May 4, 2006

Best answer: This is a great for anybody, current problems or not:

It restrains processes from grabbing all your CPU cycles.
I've been using it for two weeks now and forgot I even had it installed on my XP box until I saw this request. Enjoy.

Not bad for a first post. :-)
posted by BillyG at 2:37 AM on May 4, 2006

Disillusioned, your post made me think I might check out my FireFox plugins, specifically, though, to make sure one of them might not be contributing to the specific Firefox slowness I'm experiencing - I'lll go through those once I get home from work tonight..

I have recently had problems on several machines, of the kind you describe exactly, with the latest Firefox and the latest revision of the official Google toolbar. Installing the Google Toolbar Lite version from the extensions site solved it.

That might be your issue.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:37 PM on May 7, 2006

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