Will somebody get this HDD to shut up already?!
October 8, 2006 1:58 PM   Subscribe

How can I get my dad's computer's HDD to stop thinking constantly?

I'ts a Dell Dimension 8200. 2.0 ghz, 512 mb ram, some kind of 40 gig HDD. The computer runs slowly because of a bunch of bloaty software that doesnt really need to be installed. But something is making the HDD 'burp' every second or two. Will provide more info on request!
posted by GleepGlop to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
And by doesn't need to be installed, I mean that I would uninstall it if it was my computer, but it isn't.
posted by GleepGlop at 2:00 PM on October 8, 2006

Sounds like a PEBKAC problem to me.

But seriously, here are a few key points to know:
  • Your HDD is not "thinking". Some program is performing read or write access on the hard drive. Once you find this program, you will be able to fix the problem.
  • A lot of software *installed* on a computer, even bloated software, cannot slow down a computer, although a defragmented hard drive might during heavy disk access
  • However, a lot of software *running* on a computer, *especially* bloated software, can slow down a system.
Just to be safe you should run AdAware to check that spyware is not running on the computer. If there are a lot of system extensions running, this could also be the problem, but my money's on spyware. That's the main reason that a computer might be slowed down.

You should also install an anti-virus program if one hasn't been installed yet, and do a full virus scan. After that, you should put some pretty serious restrictions on what can happen to the computer--set up firewall protection, etc.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:16 PM on October 8, 2006

AdAware is available here. AVG Anti-Virus is a good, free anti-virus program that will catch a good number of common viruses. Make sure its database is up-to-date on a regular basis.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:18 PM on October 8, 2006

You can use Filemon to see what process keeps continually hitting the disk, but if you can't uninstall the turdware why bother asking?

512MB RAM is bordering on tortuously insufficient these days, and with RAM being cheap why not put in 1 or 2GB? That would have more of an impact than anything else, aside from getting a new machine.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:19 PM on October 8, 2006

posted by Rhomboid at 2:22 PM on October 8, 2006

Its got adaware, spybot, avg antivirus, zonealarm firewall, up to date everything. What it has that i don't like is a nearly 10 year old copy of corel wordperfect suite 8 complete with all kinds of crappy extras that i can't uninstall. But if i exit this 'corel suite' crap from running in the tray it doesnt make a difference. There is a LOT of stuff running in the task manager processes, so maybe I should google the names of this stuff to figure out if any of them are bad unless there is software that does that...
posted by GleepGlop at 2:24 PM on October 8, 2006

Hmm, according to filemon there is nothing suspicious: it's constantly cycling (every half second) between doing zonealarm, hp services (just installed yesterday for the new printer), and firefox.

I was considering more RAM but didnt want to recommend the expense if there was a software issue going on that no hardware would fix...
posted by GleepGlop at 2:32 PM on October 8, 2006

Adaware and spybot should take care of any malware (make sure that they're updated).

Use start>run 'msconfig' to stop things from launching at startup. The odds are good that lots of stuff in the tray/tasklist don't really need to be running all the time.

Ditto on making sure that there's adequate harddrive space free and that the disk has been scanned and defragmented.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:33 PM on October 8, 2006

It just doesnt make sense to me though because my own computer has way worse specs: 866mhz, 512 mb ram, and it runs way better than my dad's. It runs XP actually perfectly because I never have anything installed / running that I dont use and keep everything up to date.

I'm wondering if just certain hardware configurations make the drive need to be accessed all the time. I think if I reinstalled XP on my dad's computer the drive would probably still be accessing constantly with a fresh install.
posted by GleepGlop at 2:44 PM on October 8, 2006

- Indexing service (you can safely disable this in the services control panel)
- Definitely google names of running processes, it could be a zombie spam mailer
- Check memory sizes of running processes. A memory leak could be causing constant paging to disk
- Could be a dying HDD. Even brand new drives fail.
- Could be completely standard behaviour (e.g. normal memory paging) but an unusually noisy drive. Quiet PC fanatics often sling their drives in elastic, rather than bolt them to the case (overheat precautions must be taken due to lack of case heatsink behaviour).
posted by pivotal at 2:59 PM on October 8, 2006

It's probably the Windows "indexing service". If you have administrator privilege it can be disabled on the disk drive right-click popup, but I prefer to use the Computer Management "Services" tool and disable the indexing service entirely. (Utterly useless piece of crap, basically.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:17 PM on October 8, 2006

Nope the indexing service didnt change anything...
posted by GleepGlop at 4:41 PM on October 8, 2006

[total stab in the dark]
is there some kind of defrag-or-antivirus-scan-while-idle thing going on?
[/total stab in the dark]
posted by juv3nal at 11:06 PM on October 8, 2006

It could also be Windows XP's background prefetch or "disk optimiser" thing.
1. Download TweakUI from here:

and run it.
2. Start > Programs > Powertoys for Windows XP > Tweak UI.
3. Click "General" on the left hand side.
4. On the right hand side of the Tweak UI screen you should see a box labelled "settings".
5. Scroll the list down until you see [x] Optimize hard disk when idle.
6. Click the [x] to remove the x, then click OK.

Hopefully this might clear up the problem.

Some computers will thrash the hard disk a lot more than others when the "optimize" setting is enabled.
posted by flutable at 5:40 AM on October 10, 2006

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