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I maintain a small office of about 7 desktop computers running Windows XP, with a server running Ubuntu.

On a monthly basis, I:

  • run CrapCleaner to clean out temporary files and fix registry issues
  • run Defraggler
  • backup their documents, email and Firefox profile to a RAID on the server
  • make sure all their Windows/Security/Antivirus/Antispyware software has the latest updates
  • check that extraneous programmes have not inserted themselves into the startup folder or msconfig startup sequence.

These are all Dual or Quad core Intel machines that I have built myself, all with a minimum of 3GB of RAM.

However, on a semi-regular basis, people in my office start whining that their machine is "slow".

How do I troubleshoot a "slow" computer, and what more can I do in terms of regular maintenance?

I really don't want to go to the effort of reinstalling these machines, especially when they come whining about every 2 or 3 months about "slow". I'm quite prepared to accept an annual WinXP reinstall but more often than that is just painful.

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6 Answers

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Ditto what SvenW says; the first thing to do is to try to get some more information out of them.

  • How long does it take to boot/login.
  • Is it unresponsive to simple commands (such as opening explorer windows or starting small applications) or does it take much longer to do bigger jobs than you'd expect?

Ideally, get them to show you when it's being slow. For this purpose, try the following:

  • Download SysinternalsSuite: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-gb/sysinternals/bb842062
  • Run procexp on the affected machine at the start of the day.
  • In View->Select Columns, check the following:
    • Process Memory: Private Bytes History
    • Process Performance: CPU History, I/O History, I/O Writes, I/O Reads, I/O Other
  • Then set View->Update Speed to 10 seconds.
  • Leave it running minimised and ask the user to call you when it starts to slow down (assuming it isn't always slow)

You should then be able to see a potted history of the behaviour of the system. It's not certain you'll find the culprit, but it should be easy to spot an application or service that is thrashing the disk or eating all of the PC's RAM or CPU, by looking at the current values and the history graphs.

One final note on Disk defragging: Try to keep 20-25% space free on the disk. This lets the drive perform at optimum levels and means the defrag will complete in a reasonably fast time. If they've got < 5% disk free, then no amount of defragging will help, the disk will churn horribly.

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It's sad bad true that many "slow computer" complaints are in fact only imagined, because people expect their computer to get slow over time since it is "common knowledge" that Windows will get slower all the time (and their spyware-laden home machines really do). But even if that is true it is good practice to make sure is it indeed a PEBKAC and that their is nothing else that really makes the system slow, maybe with the network connections or something like that.

So, ask your users details: When did it start to get slow, is it slow only in with specific operations or in specific situation etc.etc. Even if you find that nothing is really wrong, this serves a very important purpose: The user will feel that he is been taken seriously and that you don't ignore him.

Some other hints: I assume your users don't have admin rights on their boxes. If they do, you can expect real speed problems very soon because they will infect themselves with malware.

Also, it might be a good idea to look into imaging software like TrueImage or something like that because it will make reinstalling from a known good state a very easy and fast operation.

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generic answers:

  • check what starts up together with the system. over time there'll be more and more of:

    • google chrom/earth updates
    • java updates
    • adobe flash/reader/shockwave updates
    • apple quick time updates
    • antivirus updates
    • what not updates...

    probably you dont need them all.. maybe you can install critical patches automatically [ even on a small scale - eg with wpkg ]. you can use autoruns to see what starts with the system.

  • some antivirus software can slow down your disk io; in general most of my frustration comes from slow io not cpu speed.
  • users might have unhealthily habit of running too much application at the same time; once in a while it's good to reboot or at least kill those 20 windows and 90 tabs of firefox/ie/chrome
  • do you use some network shares - eg mapped network drives? can it be that something is timing out or users try to use windows networking over slow/high latency link?
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+1 for Autoruns. Really good utility. –  ultrasawblade Feb 25 '11 at 11:39
    
Often windows is slow to start up because it is finishing off the installation of security updates. –  DutchUncle Feb 25 '11 at 21:45
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in my experience the lusers always whine, this is not a technical problem anymore friend. this is more of a people problem that you need to be clever to resolve.

I have had similar experience as IT service delivery manager. And we really put a stop to needless whining through proper communication with managers and the users. More than often ( i am not saying this your case or generalizing, its just my case) these people were complaining as an excuse. Only few were genuine.

technically - computers slow down due to heat and dust too. I hope that hardware mainteance was part of your plan too :)

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Actually, come to think of it, I haven't vacuumed the dust out of the insides in quite a while... –  Amanda Feb 25 '11 at 8:57
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please dont use a vacuume :( –  JamesK Feb 25 '11 at 9:01
    
Oh, also, one of the whiners is the boss, so thats a bit problematic ;) –  Amanda Feb 25 '11 at 9:10
    
@JamesK surely if the nozzles are plastic and I'm wearing an antistatic wrist band, a vacuum will be fine? –  Amanda Feb 25 '11 at 9:22
    
i use a non electrostatic (plastic like) bristle duster. you can use vacuum in blow mode and lower the power. if you cant lower the power you can put a thin cotton cloth over the nozzle. adjust thickness of cloth until you can just feel it like a breeze. ;) –  Vangel Feb 25 '11 at 9:29
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I know that my solution isn,t best but i think it could give you some answers. If you have ubuntu server you can use it to set up cacti i and monitor your windows desktops via smnp.

It gives you knowledge about cpu and memory usage, etc, and you be able to see is the whining justified.

If you want reinstall your desktops more often you can use clonezilla server(in my work im reinstaling about 100 PC every month in one nigth :)

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It is said by the wise man that

COMPUTER functioning speed is propotional to HUMAN brain speed in front of it.

So the answer is their brain speed is too low :(

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