I promise this is the last computer question I'll ever ask.
July 7, 2008 5:09 PM   Subscribe

I hate doing this, but I have a computer issue and need help. Apologies in advance. Random pauses while it's running... what broke?

So, I have a machine running Windows XP with some older-ish hardware - Athlon 64 processor, etc. Within the past week, some interesting things have started happening. The computer will hang for about 15 seconds (where NOTHING happens), and then continue on its merry way. If task manager is running, after it gets itself back together it will show a 100% CPU spike during the brief hang.

It has started happening more and more frequently to the point that I get about 30 seconds of useful time followed by a 15 second pause. Previous to this the lags seemed much more random and spread out.

I disabled a few of the startup programs (Nero's, Adobe's, and Office's startup checker thingies) using msconfig, and that helped for about four hours. Now it's back with a vengeance. Adware and virus scans don't yield results. I have not installed any new software recently.

I am led to believe it is a hardware issue, mostly because I now see it during the Windows XP splash screen. Removing the RAM (my initial guess) did not help. My best guess now is that the motherboard is killing itself - does this seem reasonable? It may be an overheating issue, but all the fans are running fine and are relatively clean.

The one last bit of (possible spurious) evidence I have - a previous issue to this one involved the computer failing to make it past the memory check during boot. That hasn't happened in awhile, but it did take some creative power cycling and jamming of power cables to unstick it from that situation.

Hope me!
posted by backseatpilot to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
Have you cleaned out the inside of the box? The inside of my computer gets choked up with dust and needs to be cleaned out fairly regularly or it starts having cooling issues. A better heatsink/cooling fan may also help.
posted by lekvar at 5:19 PM on July 7, 2008

The memory issue during boot catches my attention. Download and run MemTest86 and let it run overnight. If you see any red errors, you have bad RAM.
posted by phrayzee at 5:26 PM on July 7, 2008

What kind of USB devices do you have? Sometimes a USB handshake timeout can lock up XP on a single-processor computer.
posted by Class Goat at 5:34 PM on July 7, 2008

First try what phrayzee said. You need to make sure your memory is good.

Now, right-click on My Computer and choose Properties. Go to the Hardware tab. Click on Device Manager. Expand IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers. Open your Primary and Secondary IDE channels. Go to the Advanced Settings tabs. Is the Current Transfer Mode on either channel set to PIO?
posted by mysterious1der at 6:01 PM on July 7, 2008

Had this same thing happen to me and about 100 computers at work.

If you do a CTRL+ALT+DEL and choose Task manager around the time it happens - or heck even prior to. Go to processes and sort it by memory. If you see SVCHOST.EXE in the top 5 - try the fix in this link:


I know the article is old, but this is still a problem with XP and windows upate.
posted by bleucube at 6:08 PM on July 7, 2008

All the other tips are good, but start with the memory test. MemTest MemTest MemTest. Burn it to a CD and let it run overnight. Everything else is secondary to that.

And no amount of jiggling power cords is going to fix bad RAM.
posted by intermod at 6:10 PM on July 7, 2008

Have you recently started using an online RSS reader or do you keep open some other possibly-heavy javascript-based site? My XP box hangs when the browser fires off a bunch of update threads for me feeds.
posted by rhizome at 6:20 PM on July 7, 2008

Mem test is currently running, thanks for the ideas so far.

Question, though - I have two DIMMs. I tried pulling one and booting (no luck), and then pulled the other instead and booted (no luck). Will a mem test yield results that that little experiment didn't?
posted by backseatpilot at 6:29 PM on July 7, 2008

have you tried a ram stick that wasn't previously in your PC? Based on your previous check, if the system still doesn't boot with a new stick of ram, you'd be looking at mainboard issues. Or vice versa.
posted by judge.mentok.the.mindtaker at 7:00 PM on July 7, 2008

What everybody above said, but it could also be automatic updates from any number of programs. Try killing just about all background applications, or even running in Safe Mode, and see what happens.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:01 PM on July 7, 2008

Most desktop computers are designed to take DIMMs in pairs. The hardware won't run with a single DIMM in.
posted by Class Goat at 8:20 PM on July 7, 2008

This really sounds thermal to me. I'd suggest trying to find something to monitor the CPU temp. Check on the motherboard OEM's website as they usually have something. If you have bad RAM I doubt the machine would recover from the seizures.
posted by chairface at 9:23 PM on July 7, 2008

Most desktop computers are designed to take DIMMs in pairs. The hardware won't run with a single DIMM in.

That's not really true.. Most desktop computers perform better when DIMMs are installed in pairs, but work just fine with a single stick. Only a few PCs, especially computers with RDRAM, need DIMMs (or RIMMs, or whatever) in pairs. Of course with an AMD CPU, this PC won't have RDRAM..

All of which makes "pulling one and booting (no luck)" quite strange. What model motherboard do you have? If you don't know, get System Information for Windows to tell you.

The USB idea sounds promising.. Or, some other driver conflict..
posted by Chuckles at 11:12 PM on July 7, 2008

This really sounds thermal to me. I'd suggest trying to find something to monitor the CPU temp. Check on the motherboard OEM's website as they usually have something. If you have bad RAM I doubt the machine would recover from the seizures.

No question on the bad RAM.. The machine would lock up, BSOD, or just reboot. Running a Linux live CD (like Knoppix) for a couple of days would help establish if heat has anything to do with it..
posted by Chuckles at 11:16 PM on July 7, 2008

I'm guessing you've got a rogue program or driver. Open Task Manager and click the CPU column to sort by CPU usage. Watch the CPU usage until you get the spike and then figure out which process is causing it by watching it go up to 99 or 100% and staying there. Once you have a process name, you can figure out which program is causing it and go from there.

On a similar note, go get Microsoft Sysinternals Process Monitor and run it while you have this problem. Process monitor gives you a list of every "hit" on your hard disk. You may have a process that's hogging your hard drive, which can slow the rest of the machine down. If this is the case, you'll see hundreds or thousands of list entries showing that process.
posted by cnc at 1:24 PM on July 8, 2008

This might be a little premature, but it looks like the winner is USB issue. Ran a mem check overnight with no errors reported. When I got home from work today, I pulled all the USB devices except for the keyboard and mouse, and it looks like it's working fine so far.

My best guess right now is that one or both of the USB extension cables I had plugged in (iPod and camera connections) got some water in them when it stormed last week and I left my windows open. They're dry now but I wouldn't be surprised if there's some conductive sediment left inside. If it goes south again I'll come back crying.

Thanks for the help!
posted by backseatpilot at 2:25 PM on July 8, 2008

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