Stop-Start Computing
August 6, 2007 7:39 PM   Subscribe

What would make an old Windows computer stop accepting input for short periods of time (2-3 minutes)?

My housemate has an old Compaq PC running Windows XP. Lately, it's started pausing for 2-3 minute intervals, not accepting any input. The keyboard buffer isn't overflowing: it's even mouse input that stops dead. It also seems to just seize up.

I'm going to run Memtest86+ on it, but I can't imagine anything that would cause it to exhibit these symptoms. He has Antivirus and Spyware software, though any Windows worms would hit my Mac mini first, which is the DMZ host.

I'm a bit out of practice with Windows. Help?
posted by SansPoint to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
When this happens, do you notice high disk activity? Even if you don't, it could be a system or application process pegging the processor at 100%.
posted by pmbuko at 8:17 PM on August 6, 2007

It is probably disk access and/or not enough memory.

Make sure you chkdisk and especially defrag that sucker a couple of times. If the drive has under 10% of it's total volume available this could be causing some of the issues.

It's also possible that the the mainboard is having some issues, you can check the event log under the computer administration control panel.
posted by iamabot at 8:18 PM on August 6, 2007

Was any new hardware added or changed recently? Was the BIOS updated or reset? What you describe I have seen caused by 2 reasons. #1 is high cpu usage as described above, and #2 is IRQ conflicts - Where one device is using an IRQ that is required by another device, one will be unable to function properly.

Although it is hard to just tell if there are conflicts because some devices share the same IRQ, you can see if there is anything on the same IRQ as your mouse/keyboard by going to right-clicking my computer on the desktop, and selecting "manage". Then click the device manager. From the view menu select "resources by connection" and drop down the IRQ list.

Sometimes just removing the hardware, booting, and then replacing it will fix this. Some motherboard will let you manually assign IRQ addresses.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 8:38 PM on August 6, 2007

For what it's worth, my experience tells me that when a system freezes up as you describe, it's almost always hardware related. Since the system doesn't actually die, I'd focus on a bad spot on the disk.
posted by tcv at 9:11 PM on August 6, 2007

I've seen this kind of thing caused by the Kodak Software Updater that comes with Kodak Easyshare camera software. If he has Easyshare installed, delete the Software Updater shortcut from the Start->All Programs->Startup menu and reboot.
posted by flabdablet at 9:23 PM on August 6, 2007

I remember this sort of thing happening several years ago on an old Compaq in our little office. I can't remember precisely what it was, but it was definitely related to the network card.

Also, Sonic_Molson makes very good points. In particular, has any hardware been added to the machine?

Either way, I recommend that you go to Compaq's (now HP) support pages and get the latest drivers for everything that you can. Start with the network card drivers.
posted by redteam at 11:48 PM on August 6, 2007

Response by poster: <late>
Nothing new has been added to the machine. He doesn't have a digital camera, and he hasn't updated or reset the BIOS.
posted by SansPoint at 12:43 PM on August 8, 2007

OK. If it's an old machine, and especially if it's been operated under a desk rather than on one, the CPU heatsink fins may well be chock-a-block with dust. This will cause the CPU to overheat, and it will slow itself down to avoid damage. If it slows itself down enough, the system will become very unresponsive.

Whip the covers off and look for dust clogging the CPU heatsink fins. If you find it, take the machine outside and blow the dust out. An air compressor with a hand nozzle is good for this if you have one (don't blow on the fans so hard you rip them to bits) but usually you can get most of it out with just lung power (shut your eyes!)
posted by flabdablet at 7:10 PM on August 8, 2007

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