XP unusably slow after STOP errors and running checkdisk - what's going on?
March 4, 2007 12:29 PM   Subscribe

So it's come to this - I see no other option than to ask a "help me fix my PC" question. After some troubleshooting the STOP errors seem to have been resolved, XP now boots successfully but is excruciating slow to the point of being unusable. Details and specs below the fold.

-Intel Celeron 2.4GHz
-1 x 512 MB RAM
-XP Pro SP2
-PCI Firewire card
-onboard: USB 2.0, VIA Gigabit Ethernet adapter

IDE config:

1M: HD Maxtor 80 GB U-ATA
1S: empty
2M: DVD Burner

First, the BIOS would occasionally fail to find the boot device (HD). Setting the primary master to "Not Installed" and rebooting, and then back to "Auto" remedied this for the time being.

Then a few days ago the machine started throwing a bunch of BSODs during normal operation. I recorded some of them for your viewing pleasure:

0x000000F4, 0x00000003, 0x829FF020, 0x829FF194
0xc000000E, 0xC000000E, 0x00000000, 0x05357000
0x0000007A (0XC03E1128, 0XC0000185, 0XF844A074, 0X08195860) ACPI.SYS
0x0000008E (0XC0000005, 0X8054AE34, 0XF6505BF4, 0X00000000)

Eventually XP wouldn't boot at all: system32/config was 'corrupted', or something along those lines. I assume this happened as a result of one of the STOP errors.

For some reason CHKDSK wouldn't run on this machine, so I took out the drive and ran CHKDSK on it with the drive attached to another machine. It did find a bunch of errors and corrected them all.

I put it back in its own box, and ran CHKDSK again from the Recovery Console (ran fine this time, and found no errors) and also a FIXBOOT for good measure.

Which brings us to the current situation. The system32/config error is gone, and Windows does boot, *but*:

-The XP splash screen fades in very slowly and seems halted here and there.
-Upon logon, the desktop background loads but no icons or taskbar appear.
-I can load explorer and systray via taskmgr, and sometimes they eventually load on their own without intervention, but this takes a *long* time. Somewhere in the ten minutes order of magnitude.

So technically speaking, Windows now runs, but it's so excruciatingly slow it's basically unusable.

Additional details:
-I have run a Spybot Search & Destroy scan: it found some threats and removed them. No new findings upon further boots and/or Spybot runs.
-I would scan for viruses, but I can't install AVG Free: I just removed the old 7.1 version (had to anyway as it was no longer supported), and the 7.5 installer happily skips from "pick a directory" to "Installation Complete!" but never seems to have touched a file at all! Doesn't even create the specified directory in Program Files.
-Network now also doesn't work. The Network Connections window says "Connected" but the machine receives no IP address nor lease from router. Router and rest of network are running fine.
-I tried System Restore with a variety of restore points from the past two weeks or so, but after going through the process (which also takes very long) it reboots and tells me that restoring to the previous point failed.

In short, I'm confused and could really use your insight. What's causing this and how can I fix it? Thanks in advance for any light you can shed upon this. If you have any questions or need any further details, I'd be happy to answer and provide them.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"Celeron" - Ugh.. but I'll skip that for now, its not your more pressing problem. :)

In my experience (doing PC/Network support for about 15 years at various companies big and small)... getting STOP errors is typically indicative of either: You have a memory stick going "bad"... OR ... your hard drive is going bad.

In the situation you are in, this is what I would do:

Pull your hard drive out and stick it back in the 2nd computer, long enough to copy off your data and files so that you have everything all backed up. Then put the drive back in your "bad" computer and format/reinstall it and see if you have the same problems. If its a hardware problem, you should see the same (or similar) behavior during the reinstall of Windows.

Once your sure you've got your data backed up... then atleast you have a little "wiggle room" to test a few things. You might want to look for a BIOS update for your motherboard. Possibly download and run MEMTEST on your ram. While you've got the case open.. blow all the dust out and look over your motherboard closely .. does everything look OK ?... fans all working?... any capacitors "leaking" ?
posted by jmnugent at 12:40 PM on March 4, 2007

Did you ever try a fresh format and reinstall from your XP cd? Once things get this bad I tend to go that route.

That said you could possibly have issues at the motherboard, ram, or hard drive level which need to diagnosed (trouble shot) individually. My gut feeling is either a ram or motherboard issue perhaps complicated by a corupt installation of Windows. Performing a fresh install of Windows will help get you down to the base issue.

Sadly without an additional stick of ram you'll have a hard time troubleshooting with the "swap and boot" method. Ditto for the motherboard.

I'd yank that PCI firewire card while you're doing all this troubleshooting... one less thing to worry about. For bonus points you could disable all the extra stuff (sound, network, etc) on your motherboard before doing the reinstall and the gradually enable them one at a time, allowing windows to find them upon reboot.

Don't forget to back your stuff up before a format... Good luck.
posted by wfrgms at 12:45 PM on March 4, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for your replies so far, guys.

I should add (and I know how this sounds) that I really want to avoid a reinstall if at all possible.

I'll test my RAM.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:54 PM on March 4, 2007

Best answer: Sounds like your HDD could be going south. So, after you do this stuff, do a for-real backup. An external USB drive and replacement HDD might set you back, oh, $180 total.
On the off chance it's not purely hardware, check disk cache settings. They can on rare occasions get messed up or turned off.
If cache is OK, then you might want to check registry integrity with ccleaner. Make sure My Network Places has nothing in it as well,
If your router is secured it's possible to be connected yet not get a DHCP connection. If you want to test it, reset your router for now to open access and see whether you can get a lease. That's obviously not something you want to have open for a while.
You should also run sfc, the system file checker. Have your Windows distro handy for that. Good luck and save the reinstall for later. If your HDD is bad, it will not wendell.
posted by nj_subgenius at 12:54 PM on March 4, 2007

I really want to avoid a reinstall if at all possible

At this point it doesn't sound like you're going to achieve the reliability and performance you want without a reinstall. Further, as I said, the flakiness of your windows install maybe masking underlying problems with your ram, harddrive, and mobo.

Although nj_subgenius' suggestions deserve a looksie.
posted by wfrgms at 12:59 PM on March 4, 2007

Best answer: You are almost certainly looking at a memory, hard drive or controller issue.

I once had a drive controller with a bent pin. Any time a drive was plugged into it, it would scramble the MFT at boot and make all data inaccessible on that drive. It was NOT the neat party trick it sounds.

Memory could also be causing these problems, and is notoriously difficult to test for. Why? Because it's not all or nothing. Memory might only fail after a couple of hours of use, or at seemingly random intervals.

Again, if you have another hard drive you can use, that'd be the quickest way to diagnose things. If a copy of XP is installed on it and boots very quickly and everything runs fine, your hard drive is probably on its last legs.

You can try running SMART tests as well, but they don't pick up all out-of-tolerances, nor will a drive always flag or detect issues. Hard drives can also fail gradually, but it's a pretty steep curve, and one you don't want to ride the entire way down if you can back up and get out now.

If a new drive continues to exhibit the same problems, you could very well be looking at either a memory or controller issue. Memory issues can suck because sometimes they cause errors in OTHER components. When I first bought this machine, I couldn't determine for the life of me why it'd only fail half of the time, and why I couldn't get PCI-X to work properly. Turned out that one of my memory sticks was completely defective, and trying to boot to JUST that stick provided more consistent problems, while booting without it caused no problems. Unfortunately, they were part of a pack, so I had to wait for the replacement.

Bottom line is, if your BIOS is giving you trouble detecting your boot device consistently, and XP is taking long times to boot at the very early stages, it's probably not an XP issue. Drive controller (motherboard), hard drive (most likely) or memory.

Vaya con dios. New memory or hard drives are relatively cheap, but if you're running a Cele still, "relatively cheap" might not mean the same.
posted by disillusioned at 1:04 PM on March 4, 2007

Response by poster: Excellent advice nj_subgenius, I'll run through it as soon as the virus scan is complete (it's running one now after all, on the 2nd machine).

I've got an external drive BTW and will run a backup tonight.

If your HDD is bad, it will not wendell.

Sigh... I know. I'm totally prepared to part with this HDD, I'll probably ghost it to a fresh one.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:05 PM on March 4, 2007

Response by poster: Again, if you have another hard drive you can use, that'd be the quickest way to diagnose things. If a copy of XP is installed on it and boots very quickly and everything runs fine, your hard drive is probably on its last legs.

Excellent idea. Will try this as well.

Vaya con dios. New memory or hard drives are relatively cheap, but if you're running a Cele still, "relatively cheap" might not mean the same.

Hey, I never said it was my main machine! :)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:12 PM on March 4, 2007

I know you said you don't really want to do a Windows reinstall, but someday you may have no choice.

With the right backup & restore software, like Acronis True Image, it can be pretty painless and quick (2-4 hours). Hard drives are cheap and you won't need a very big one to back up your existing drive. If you don't want to mess with opening your case to install it, then spend another $25-$40 and get a good external enclosure for it so you can plug it into a USB port.

Someday your hard drive will crash or you will want to migrate your data to a bigger faster hard drive or another computer. For $120 to $150 you can be prepared for when that happens. In your case, it could easily be today or tomorrow. Also, you'll be able to use the drive, the enclosure and the software for years to come.

I suggest shopping at Newegg.com. Compared to your local computer store, the savings will be worth waiting three days for the stuff to arrive at your house. We'll all be happy to make suggestions if you don't know what parts or software to buy.
posted by 14580 at 1:29 PM on March 4, 2007

Response by poster: Quick follow-up: as I said I already have new USB HDD I don't use much. Can I just ghost my HD to the external drive and boot from there?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:19 PM on March 4, 2007

I don't think you can boot from a USB drive for Windows.
There may be a way to boot from CD to a USB install, but sadly I don't know it.
IMHO: Use Ghost or standard Windows backup. Acronis blows.
posted by nj_subgenius at 2:32 PM on March 4, 2007

"Can I just ghost my HD to the external drive and boot from there?"

If your motherboard supports booting from USB... you'd have to look in BIOS and see if that option exists.

Personally..I would strongly recommend againest "ghosting" the contents of your drive to a new one. You are already dealing with file corruption and OS instability.. ghosting isnt gonna solve that. Your best bet for long term stability is to backup your data... wipe clean and format (or buy a new drive), install Windows FRESH and go from there. Not what you wanna hear, but I'd be willing to bet its what you end up doing.
posted by jmnugent at 2:42 PM on March 4, 2007

Best answer: I found this , gnfti. Hope it helps.
posted by nj_subgenius at 2:42 PM on March 4, 2007

Best answer: If that were my problem, I'd be doing the following:

1. Get a copy of the Trinity Rescue Kit.

2. Boot it up and select Memtest86 from the boot menu. Let Memtest86 run at least overnight. If Memtest86 finds even one RAM fault, replace your RAM and repeat this step.

3. Boot into TRK itself; then, at the command prompt, type

smartctl -a /dev/hda

Check the resulting S.M.A.R.T. attributes table and look for any numbers in the VALUE or WORST column that are lower than the corresponding number in the THRESH column. If there are any, you will want to be replacing your HD.

4. If your HD is failing, get a new HD of the same or larger capacity and plug it onto the slave connector on the old HD's IDE cable, then boot TRK again and run the following commands:

ddrescue /dev/hda /dev/hdb ddrescue.log

This will do a block-by-block copy from your old HD to the new one, noting any unreadable blocks in the logfile (which is kept in RAM, so don't switch the machine off just yet). The copy will probably take several hours. If ddrescue reports copy errors, do a second pass, like so:

raw /dev/raw/raw1 /dev/hda
ddrescue -C -r 50 /dev/raw/raw1 /dev/hdb ddrescue.log

This will run much more quickly than the first pass, because it's only going to try copying blocks that failed the first time.

At this point, you now have a hardware-OK copy of your failing Windows installation, and you can virus-scan it from within TRK. This will be much more likely to catch any nasties than virus-scanning from inside Windows, because none of the viruses will have had any opportunity to be running.

TRK commands to do a virus scan with AVG are:

mountallfs -g
virusscan -a avg

If I didn't have a working Windows at the end of all that, I would swear loudly and reinstall.
posted by flabdablet at 3:14 PM on March 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: flabdablet, thanks, I was looking into the TRK option just now. Quick question: can I clone my 80 GB HDD (15 GB free) to a 75 GB HDD I have lying around, for testing purposes?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:28 PM on March 4, 2007

Response by poster: (using TRK, I mean)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:32 PM on March 4, 2007

Best answer: You can't do that with ddrescue because it works block-by-block, and your original NTFS partition is unlikely to have all its free blocks clustered politely at the end of the disk. If your spare drive was larger than the failing one, no problem; but smaller means you can't use ddrescue. If I were you, I'd go grab a hundred bucks' worth of new Seagate or Samsung goodness and use that.

If you want to have a bit of a play around, though, TRK has some other tools on it that might get you a little further along. I'm going to assume that

(a) your original, possibly flaky, disk is the primary IDE master

(b) it's formatted with a single NTFS partition

(c) your spare 75GB drive has nothing on it you want to keep

(d) your 75GB drive is the primary IDE slave

If any of these assumptions are wrong, post back and I'll modify the recipes accordingly.

Boot TRK, then use

cfdisk /dev/hdb

to edit the partition table on the spare drive. Wipe out all existing partitions, and make a new partition that takes up the whole drive (it's pretty obvious how to do this, as cfdisk is menu-driven). Leave the partition type set to 83 (Linux).

Next, make a new Linux file system on the new partition:

mkfs -t ext3 /dev/hdb1

Now mount that file system, making it available to the OS under /mnt0:

mount /dev/hdb1 /mnt0

Save the master boot record and any secondary boot code from your flaky hard drive to a file on the second drive:

dd if=/dev/hda of=/mnt0/hda.mbr bs=512 count=63

Now use the ntfsclone tool to create an image of your original Windows partition on the new drive. Ntfsclone has several ways to do that; we're going to use the method that makes it write out the image as a sparse file:

ntfsclone --rescue --output /mnt0/hda1.ntfs /dev/hda1

This will create an image file that's block-for-block identical with your existing NTFS partition, and can later be mounted as a file system in its own right should that become necessary; but ntfsclone won't actually write anything at all to any part of the image file corresponding to an unused block on the original partition, so these blocks won't occupy space on the target hard drive. The --rescue switch will make ntfsclone tolerate and report read errors off the source drive. It won't work as hard to fix them as ddrescue would, but hopefully it will be good enough. At the very least, it will read every single used block on your possibly flaky disk, and if it does manage to hack its way through the read errors, will leave you with an image we can restore to a replacement disk of equal or greater size when you eventually acquire one - or loopback-mount as an NTFS filesystem and extract files from using Linux.

You won't be able to run Windows off that image until it is restored to a new drive, or indeed access it in any meaningful way with anything but Linux, but at least you'll have a backup of your possibly flaky drive down to the last used block.
posted by flabdablet at 11:50 PM on March 4, 2007

Oh, as for what's causing this: all the behaviour you've described is consistent with a hard drive on its way out. The fact that it's a Maxtor is also a pointer; Maxtors run hot, and are susceptible to failure unless well ventilated.

Have you had any results from smartctl -a yet?
posted by flabdablet at 11:54 PM on March 4, 2007

Response by poster: Just a heads up so you know I'm still here - I got a new drive today, and am currently trying to restore the image. I'll report back once I have any details.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:55 AM on March 6, 2007

Does "restore the image" mean that you did manage to make one, error-free, on your old 75GB drive?

Because if you did have read errors off the old drive, and you now have a new drive of the same size or bigger, it really is worth giving ddrescue a spin.

On the other hand, if "restore the image" means "make an image of the failing drive on my new drive with ddrescue": I'd love to know how it pans out.
posted by flabdablet at 2:46 PM on March 6, 2007

Best answer: Okay, sorry about the media silence, but I've been so in over my head with this kerfuffle that I wanted to wait until it at least *seemed* to run stably again before I replied - if only to avoid streams of tiny mini-updates that may have turned out to be dead ends.

Short recovery summary:

A=old main hard drive, might be dying, 80 GB Maxtor PATA
B=new hard drive, 150 GB Maxtor PATA
C=external backup drive, 250 GB Lacie USB
D=ancient spare hard drive, 75 GB IBM PATA, I don't think I trust it much after all those years.


-I backed up drive A to C overnight (very slowly - it took about 5 hours I think with just 70 GB of data!) using Norton Ghost. Cloning directly to D didn't work. Decided to forget about D.

-Bought drive B the next day. Restored the image from C to it. Still getting the no icons/taskbar thing and unusably slow.

-Restored the registry manually using this document from Microsoft, which I can heartily recommend as it's quite clear to anyone who's ever used DOS. (Although their not maintaining a single order for the registry hives/files annoyed me.) The batch files make life a lot easier, as well.

-Windows runs happily! Make sure you run System Restore immediately though to restore to an older checkpoint properly (I just chose the same point as I got the snapshots from in the manual procedure), as XP seems to revert to the current (in my case, broken) registry next shutdown (or boot??) if you neglect. It did for me, anyway. When I repeated the procedure and completed step four (System Restore), it rebooted and reported that System Restore could not be completed, but nevertheless it runs stable and well even after multiple reboots. Right now I've got my fingers crossed, but the skies look clear (as a seasoned Windows user, I'm prepared for the worst though). I suspect Windows reporting failure on the System Restore may have something to do with the fact that the hard drive had been unplugged (in reality, replaced entirely) in the meantime, which XP also warned me about before initiating the restore.


This, sadly, I have not been able to establish beyond any reasonable doubt. I agree that the symptoms in the original post gave reason to suspect a dead or dying HDD - and I'm not using the old one anymore just to be on the safe side - but it's certainly possible an even more low-level hardware problem may have caused read/write errors on the drive, in turn causing the Windows/registry failure, etc.

In particular, at some point during the recovery process the box stopped firing up altogether, fans spinning but not even loading the BIOS. As advised (and as I was at wits end with not much else to do anyway) I cleaned the machine's innards thoroughly, and in the process I noticed that the PC would boot off and on depending on how I 'wiggled' the sole RAM chip in its slot. Ha!

I did, by the way, run MEMTEST, but it found not a single error. Acting upon the suggestion that aside from HDD failure a controller/motherboard problem might be at hand, I swapped the chip for another one from a different machine (still wouldn't boot) - and then I realized that my board (an MSI PT880 Neo-LFSR, go ahead and point and/or laugh) had dual-channel RAM slots, so I just stuck the memory on its own in channel B and it booted up just fine. I can't quite gauge the significance of this at the moment, but I'm glad it worked.

(If any of the above sounds vague or if I got any terms mixed up I apologise - consider me an experienced layman in the world of system management.)

So maybe the HDD wasn't dying after all, but it was worth it getting a new one anyway - it seems a bit quieter, which is a bonus as this is my recording PC (I keep it in a cupboard though). I just don't know.

I want to say thank you to everyone who replied in this thread, and especially to nj_subgenius and - in particular - flabdablet, who gave exceptionally useful and friendly advice. Thanks for helping me fix my pc, folks!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:37 PM on March 7, 2007

Response by poster: (marked my own reply as "best answer" for easier reference by future readers)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:40 PM on March 7, 2007

yay! good news.
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:47 AM on March 8, 2007

y'know, I had a problem with my box a year ago where the bios wouldn't fire and the fans would go on sometimes, sometimes not. Turned out it was the power supply. Put in a new one, job done. If I'd heard about the boot problem earlier I would have mentioned it...that might be the root of the difficulty. Maybe you should install a mobo monitor for now?
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:56 AM on March 8, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I heard about such cases too, nj. The boot problem never arose btw until I started trying to recover the HD, strange enough. The fans always worked, though, and the LEDs etc. so I never had reason to suspect the power supply.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:36 PM on March 8, 2007

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