What happened to my laptop, and did I fix it?
January 31, 2007 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Laptopfilter: I'm curious about how CPU usage, noise level, and being able to go to standby/hibernation and shut down properly are related. For a long time (over a year, I think) my HP laptop(running Windows XP) was at 100% CPU usage all the time, ran loudly, and wouldn't go to standby or hibernation or shut down all the way. There's a lot

When this started: I packed it up one day, closing the cover and putting it in the case as I usually did (I had it set to either hibernate or go to standby when I closed the cover) except in a bit more of a hurry than usual. When I opened it back up, it wasn't on standby--the lights in front weren't doing the "in standby" thing where one of them slowly blinks, and nothing I did would bring it out. I had to turn it off by holding the power button in, and restarted it. I soon noticed that several things had changed:

CPU usage was always at 100%, whereas normally it would stay between 1% and 10% and only spike occasionally when I started an application or something. It would also be quite loud.

When I tried to put it into standby or hibernation, the screen would go blank--not as if it were turned off, but more screensaver-black. It would not come out of this and would need to be turned off and restarted.

It also wouldn't shut down properly, and would get stuck at the "Windows is shutting down" screen. I could turn it off at this point, and it seemed to treat this as a proper shutdown--it didn't do that "Windows was shut down improperly" thing when I restarted.

Lastly, the screen would occasionally go dark for a few seconds and then come back. Again, this was screensaver-black, not turned-off-black. It seemed to stop doing this for a while (months at a time) but would still occasionally do it.

It didn't seem to be overheating (I could touch it, even use it on my lap, without being burned. Although for a while I absolutely refused to leave it on when I wasn't there, I started using it for longer and longer periods of time and it never seemed to get too hot). It also didn't seem to be running any slower than normal, and aside from the things I mentioned seemed to be working completely normally. I could even log out and log back in; it was only standby, hibernation, and shutdown that wouldn't work.

(I did mean to get it checked out, believe me, and I backed up all my data when it started, but it would have meant clearing off my porn cleaning up my hard drive and paying someone and since I 1)was lazy and 2)didn't really have the spare cash, I just watched it carefully and fretted. As time went on and nothing else happened, it seemed considerably less urgent.)

I ran virus scans, of course, but really I thought it was probably some kind of hardware issue (because of the noise and because it didn't seem to be affecting most functioning) and that I'd somehow jostled something out of place. This theory seemed to be reinforced when I was testing out some Linux live cds and it still did the CPU thing and the noise thing (although it would let me shut down) and for some of them wouldn't boot from the cd unless I turned it off and let it cool down first.

Fast-forward to the present. I recently switched to Opera out of frustration with Firefox's increasing slowness and need for me to restart it every few hours and reboot every couple days or so. Opera was much better about this and I could leave it up all the time. So, for the first time in a while I'd left my computer on for more than a couple days at a time and it, I believe, overheated and shut itself down. (I wasn't using it at the time, but the sudden lack of noise made me go over and check, and it did seem hotter than normal. I propped it up to let the air circulate more, and turned it on when it seemed cool to make sure it would start.) It had never done this before.

I did a quick search and from what I found, I thought it seemed likely that the fan was clogged, so I took out the battery and partially opened up the case. (Only partially, because even after I unscrewed all the screws I could find, it was still attached somehow at the front.) I carefully poked a q-tip around in the fan area and it came out slightly dusty but not with an amount of dust that seemed like it would actually clog the fan. I closed it back up and blew hard a couple times into the air intake. Nothin'.

When I started it back up, it was running like it had been before all this started. CPU usage was normal; it could hibernate and go into standby normally. It was also much quieter--a normal level of noise. "Fixed!" I thought, and also, more quietly, "WTF?".

Then, a few days later, it turned itself off again, this time while I was using it. (When I started it up, it didn't do the "Windows was shut down improperly" thing, either.)

Before that, I had it on a table with a few sheets of newspaper on it--a reasonably hard surface, I thought. Now, it's on four carefully placed decks of cards (it's stable, and the left-back one isn't covering the air intake) to give it more circulation around it. I'm also keeping an eye on the temperature and noise level now--I've noticed that a sudden increase in noise often coincides with a spike in CPU usage, but it doesn't go down as soon as CPU usage goes down. What's up with that? (Is the lag just because it takes the fan a little while to dissipate enough of the heat?)

So--what was going on? Did my poking around fix things, somehow jostle something back into place? What's going on now? Is the fan just starting to fail now? Does this, as I assume it does, mean I shouldn't leave it on and not on standby overnight (the noise helped me sleep. I should probably just look into a white noise machine)?
posted by sleeplessunderwater to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
 
Maybe you could try to underclock its CPU, with software like RMClock Utility, since that would make it a lot less hot. With 'Performance on demand' the computer always runs at the lowest possible speed, yet is capable of more, instead of the other way around.
posted by ijsbrand at 11:55 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Working at HP and using their laptops, I know this is a problem caused by the CPU overheating. When I got a new laptop, I was told to install a BIOS update, that supposedly fixed the issue.

I have to use a docking station at home and in the office, as this stops it overheating, but I still get situations where it runs at 100% and I have to reboot.

Advice for the future, is never buy a HP laptop (none of our tech guys own HP, for home they all use Dell & IBM).
posted by the_epicurean at 2:47 AM on February 1, 2007


I have no idea about the sleep/standby/hibernate thing other than to say that many computers have issues with this function on a hardware level, and Windows XP is pretty shoddy at it on a software level.

What I came in here to say is that I had similar problems with sluggishness, CPU usage, etc on my Dell machine running XP. It seemed to get worse and worse every week, despite the numerous virus scans and tests I put it through, and the hard disk would spin when I was doing nothing on it. One day I was browsing my "Songs" folder and noticed a hidden folder titled "_". I opened it up and found about 25 GB of illegal program files (like Photoshop) which apparently had made their way onto my computer without my knowledge. I called a techie friend of mine who came over and told me that my box had somehow become a "zombie" and the excessive CPU usage was a result of constant file transfers of these programs. So, not only was the security of the machine violated and my electricity and hardware being used by someone else, but I was a node in an exceptionally illegal filesharing network.

Long story short: I backed up my personal files, deleted Windows, blanked my hard drive, and installed Kubuntu Linux. My computer runs quietly, coolly, and efficiently, but it still doesn't sleep or hibernate. I'm not one of those Linux apostles or anything, but I really am impressed with it. Food for thought.
posted by aliasless at 2:48 AM on February 1, 2007


By the way, I personally recommend this white noise machine. :)
posted by aliasless at 2:52 AM on February 1, 2007


HP Laptops suck! We have two at work and everyone hates them. They are just riddled with bugs.
posted by nickerbocker at 9:07 AM on February 1, 2007


Things to do from first to last:

Search for spyware using Spybot.

Use task manager to see what processes are running the computer for 100% of CPU. Identify these with google, see what they are.

Reinstall windows.

--

This is most likely a software problem (something using the CPU) not a hardware/dirt problem.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:29 AM on February 1, 2007


Maybe you could try to underclock its CPU, with software like RMClock Utility, since that would make it a lot less hot.

Aha! I'll try that out; thanks.

Working at HP and using their laptops, I know this is a problem caused by the CPU overheating.

So the original problems (refusal to sleep/shutdown, 100% CPU usage all the time) were just because of overheating? How does that work? How come it stopped?

the excessive CPU usage was a result of constant file transfers of these programs.
Holy crap! That would really disturb me if it hadn't already stopped. You've inspired me to up my security, though. :X
By the way, I personally recommend this white noise machine. :)
*bookmarks*

This is most likely a software problem (something using the CPU) not a hardware/dirt problem.
Damn dirty ape, are you talking about the new "spontaneously turning itself off" problem or the old "100% CPU usage, won't sleep/hibernate/shutdown" problems that disappeared after I poked around with it physically (withouth having run a virus/spyware scan immediately before that, although I had done several between those problems starting, and the present. I also checked out everything on the Processes tab when the problem started, and no flags came up except for Firefox being a huge memory hog. The Performance tab only has the CPU usage and page file usage graphs; I couldn't find any setting that would break down those by process.)?
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 5:35 PM on February 1, 2007


Yes. The process eating up the CPU is overheating your system. The system cant hibernate if its being overworked. Poking around with it only let it cool down thus you -think- you solved the problem. Also depending on your virus scanner it may very well miss some trojans. You AV itself could be compromised.

Reinstalling windows on that machine will at least remove software from the list of things potentially being the problem.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:04 PM on February 1, 2007


Well. I had this problem the last few weeks with my Gateway laptop.

I tried underclocking using Notebook Hardware Control, but the temp was still going up, and fan was blowing hard.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to de-dust the fan vent -- and dislodged a piece of fluff about 1/4 inch in size (but not very dense).

Since then, it runs at full CPU / slow CPU / whatever, and temp stays nice and cool.

The difference is night and day, and totally different than what I expected from such a small piece of dust being dislodged.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 7:34 PM on February 1, 2007


Also, see if you can update the BIOS from the manufacturer. This may be a known issue they've solved.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:33 AM on February 2, 2007


Yes. The process eating up the CPU is overheating your system. The system cant hibernate if its being overworked. Poking around with it only let it cool down thus you -think- you solved the problem. Also depending on your virus scanner it may very well miss some trojans. You AV itself could be compromised.

Ah, I see what you're saying now. But, nothing seems to be eating up CPU anymore. It looks like this now.
(You mentioned Spybot specifically--that's one of the ones I use. Spybot, Avast, Ad-Aware, and, formerly, Norton.)

Also, see if you can update the BIOS from the manufacturer. This may be a known issue they've solved.

I'll try that. It has been a while since I got it.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to de-dust the fan vent -- and dislodged a piece of fluff about 1/4 inch in size (but not very dense).

Oooo. If it's a piece of fluff, I bet it's still lurking in there somewhere. I think I found mention of where the hidden screws are, so I might be able to open it up all the way if I try again.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 2:52 PM on February 2, 2007


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