Slow catastrophic failure, format and reinstall. Previously fast PC and internet extremely slow and

Discussion in 'Windows 7 Installation' started by TheNilvarg, Aug 19, 2011.

  1. TheNilvarg

    TheNilvarg New Member

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    Prepare for a massive Wall of Text:

    Over the last few weeks, this computer has become more and more problematic. Just to get it out of the way, I can, with 99.9% certainty, rule out viruses or malware, as I'm extremely careful and use Malwarebytes, AVG, and Firefox with Noscript. My computer has been virus-free for years. Every scan (the above two, Spybot, Avira, Ad-Aware, Bazooka, HijackThis - all scans have always been clean for years). Keep in mind that this computer was functioning flawlessly up until this week. This hardware setup is from 2008 and I am using the same Windows 7 disc that I installed on it three years ago. This is the second format and re-installation since I built the computer. No problems the last time, which was about a year ago.

    About a week ago, I started getting random squeaks and buzzes out of my speakers - especially when a progress bar is moving in a browser. I figured this was a power issue. Three days ago, my Windows volume control stopped responding. I'd click the icon in the taskbar, and it would take a good minute or two before it would show up. Then I wake up a few days ago, and the computer is frozen and the speakers are making some freaky, possessed R2-D2-esque beep/squeak/buzz noises - almost like the on-board sound card is experiencing some power issues. Also, for the last few days, when Windows would start, it wouldn't be able to recognize my USB wireless adapter. I'd disable and enable it, and I'd get a "failed to connect to network" error upon enabling it. "Diagnosing" it would fail a few times, then succeed temporarily, and then it would disappear again, then magically the adapter would fix itself and automatically connect to my network about 10-15 minutes later. None of these problems were happening a week ago. It was running perfectly then. No hardware changes. No software changes.

    Then two days ago, I was about to go to bed and told the computer to go into Sleep mode. The screen went blank and I figured it was just shutting down some processes and preparing to sleep. However, I came back an hour later, and it was still on, so I turned it off manually and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning, turned it on, and it got to the Windows 7 logo loading screen, then suddenly a Blue Screen of Death appeared for a fraction of a second and the computer rebooted. It was stuck in a BSoD loop for a good 20 restarts so I selected the "System Repair Menu" option from the "Windows did not start correctly" prompt. None of the options helped or worked correctly. I couldn't perform a system restore, as it didn't detect any installed copies of Windows. I ran the "Automatic Repair" program from that menu a few times, but it eventually gave me a "Windows could not be automatically repaired" message.

    The slow stream of problems seemed to have escalated to what I'd call a catastrophic failure.

    The BSoD loops continued for a while, so I decided I'd see if I could boot from the Windows 7 disk. I made sure that the DVD drive was the top boot priority and opened the boot menu and told it to boot from the CD. However, it somehow went to boot from the hard drive anyway. So I restarted it again, and it magically made it to Windows. I took the opportunity to browse to the DVD drive and manually run the Windows installer, and after I did this and it told me to reboot, the installer finally ran and took an eternity to actually get started. However, the installation failed somehow. I ran it again, formatted the C: drive, and tried reinstalling it again, and it successfully installed this time.

    So I got into my formatted and fresh Windows 7 installation, and the volume control is working just fine, but I'm still having the network issue - including the fact that it fails after startup for 10-15 minutes then magically repairs itself and automatically connects to my network. Once I had connectivity, I activated Windows, thinking that the problems I'm about to describe are because perhaps Microsoft limits your performance before you activate; this is not the case.

    What is truly frustrating, however, is the fact that this fresh Windows installation is mind-numbingly slow, both hardware and network wise. The online Google Chrome installer was hung (not frozen, but not progressing) for a good hour before I finally closed it. Windows Update has been stuck at 23% and I can no longer open the Windows Update window from the taskbar icon (if I end the process in Task Manager, it just re-opens a few minutes later and hangs at 23% for hours, though the process isn't frozen as I can still get the percent completed pop-up to appear when I hover my mouse over the icon). Because Windows Update isn't working, I can't see if any updates or Service Packs might fix this. Internet Explorer (nothing else to use, since installers are all hanging) takes about two minutes to open, and freezes for a good minute when I try to open a website or the options (or change tabs in the options window). Even Task Manager is slow and takes about 30 seconds to close a process. It takes 10 seconds or so to open a folder in Windows Explorer, and doing things like opening the "Save" window in Notepad, or pressing "Save" are now taking seconds when they were previously instantaneous.

    The nForce 650i Chipset driver installation took about an hour as each driver installation hung (but didn't freeze) at 30% for 20 minutes or so, but finally finished - but no effect on the slowness. I can't really test the effects of other drivers at the moment, as their installers are just too slow and unresponsive to ever finish.

    I downloaded the Google Chrome Standalone Offline Installer, and clicked the icon. "ChromeStandaloneInstaller.exe" appeared in Task Manager, and five minutes later "GoogleUpdater.exe" finally showed up. However, no actually installer visibly opened. Fifteen minutes later, an installer finally appeared, hanging (but not freezing) for another fifteen minutes. It just now finally finished and Chrome was successfully installed. Contrary to what you'd expect from Chrome, it's taking several minutes to start, and is running about as slowly as IE, with the welcome page taking a minute to appear the first time, and then not opening at all, and browsing is very slow as well, both software- and latency-wise. It seems as if both my computer AND my computer's internet access are suddenly slow after this reinstall (but the internet is just as fast as usual on my other computers, so I know it's an issue with my computer rather than my ISP or router - the other computers are crappy 98/XP rigs but all running faster and getting faster internet than my 2008 powerhouse is running right now). It took about five minutes for the registration page for these forums to finally load, and the page (but not the browser) actually froze several times for 30-60 seconds during the loading. Other websites are behaving similarly.

    This thing could smoothly run Crysis at high settings before, and now after a format and fresh installation of Windows, it can barely open a web browser. The CPU usage in Task Manager is stuck at 0% (not sure if that's right), and the Physical Memory usage is hovering around 25%. The Hard Disk activity is reported as 100% in the Resource Monitor, and the HD light on the front of my case is constantly on no matter what I'm doing. I just tried to close Resource Manager, and it hung for about 30 seconds before closing.

    I finally got Defragmenter to run after several attempts, and an analysis of the C: drive says that it's 1% fragmented. I don't know if this is considered high. However, as I did a "Slow" format of the C: drive before reinstalling the OS, I assume any existing fragmentation was made irrelevant since all data was erased. Could a 1% fragmented C: drive cause this slowness?

    This is probably irrelevant, but I had a 5.5 Windows Experience Score before the re-install, and now it is a 1.2. I'm not sure how it would drop so much with no hardware changes. All four sticks of RAM are recognized by Windows, so I don't think any of them have failed.

    Specs:
    Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
    Intel Q6600
    ASUS P5N-e SLI motherboard
    4GB of RAM (whichever type the P5N-e uses... can't look it up at the moment)
    nVidia GeForce GT240 (1 GB)
    Two 250GB Western Digital hard drives
    Rosewill 700W PSU
    Lite-On DVD drive
    12Mb Comcast Cable Internet

    None of it is, or ever was, overclocked in any way.

    I have no idea what is wrong with this thing, and it's really getting frustrating, especially since I was laid off and can't afford to replace any of the hardware right now if this is a hardware failure. I'm considering trying another format and reinstall, though I'm not expecting different results.

    I'm sure I left something out despite this being an excessively long and wordy post, so if you need more information, please let me know. I hope this is the best possible forum for this issue, because my computer and internet are now too slow to find any other forums. Took a total of 20 minutes just to get registered and to this "New Thread" page.
     
    #1 TheNilvarg, Aug 19, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2011
  2. nmsuk

    nmsuk Windows Forum Admin
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    Hi, welcome to the forum.

    Can you boot in to safe mode and open a command prompt and run chkdsk c: /F and then run sfc /scannow. Have you updated your network drivers to the latest available? Same goes for video and sound drivers. Don't allow windows update to get these but go directly to each manufacturer and get the latest drivers from them. Could you get a utility called driverview and save off a list of your drivers for me to go through please.

    NmsUK
     
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  3. TheNilvarg

    TheNilvarg New Member

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    Thanks for the response. As you'll read below, this is impossible, as I can't even get Windows to boot now. None of the drivers are even relevant at this point.

    Anyway, here's what's happened since that last post, and the details may be a bit flaky, as it's been about a week since I actually touched this computer (the issue where Windows just plain won't boot started a week ago, then I went away for the week):


    After I got Windows formatted and reinstalled during my original post, I finally got the chipset drivers to install after about an hour of the installer hanging. This changed nothing, so I decided I might as well just try another format and reinstall. This time, I ran the Chipset installer, and it was nice and fast. The installer asked me to restart my computer, so I did, and when it tried to boot again, I got a "Bootmgr is missing. Press Ctrl-Alt-Del to restart." error. This happened repeatedly, so I tried formatting and reinstalling Windows a couple more times because I figured maybe Windows was missing some essential boot files.


    Every reinstall, I just kept getting the same error. Then occasionally, I'd get a "Disk Read Failure. Press Ctrl-Alt-Del to restart." error. Just like last week (but not before these problems started), the Windows installer takes an eternity to even open the "Install Windows" dialog, taking fifteen minutes or so between clicking "Install Now" or "Repair Tools" and actually having the next window appear. As of now, I haven't actually gotten Windows to boot in a week or so, still getting these same errors. I tried the "Startup Repair" tool, but it ran and found no problems that could be repaired.


    I ran a Command Prompt from the "Startup Repair" window and tried the three "bootrec" commands:


    bootrec /fixmbr - This command claimed to be successful, though it may rely on the other two working, so it may have been wrong, and certainly had no effect on the "Bootmgr" issue.
    bootrec /fixboot - This chugged for a while, then gave me the error "The request could not be performed because of an I/O device error."
    bootrec /rebuildbcd - This chugged for a while, and acted as if it was successful, but one of the resulting lines was "Detected Windows Installations: 0".


    None of these commands made any difference.


    I just shut down the computer and unplugged the SATA and power cable from a hard drive in an effort to disconnect my D: drive (where all my non-Windows stuff is stored) so that I don't inadvertently format it in all of this fooling around, and now for some reason, Windows Installer won't detect any hard drives. All of this is a real pain, because I obviously can't open Windows Explorer, as my Windows installation won't boot, so I get to sit and wait 30 minutes for the Windows Installer to get to the "select drive" window before I can even check this. I plugged both back in, and it is once again detecting them both. Is there some way I can browse the contents of the drives without being able to boot Windows? I tried browsing them in the Windows DVD's built in command line, but they said "device is not ready" when I used "dir" to display the contents. I'd really like to get the D: drive disconnected so I can run a full format from the command prompt without having to worry about mixing up the drives as they don't currently have drive letters without Windows being installed.


    Anyway, I'm pretty much convinced that this is a hardware issue. The fact that all of these varied, seemingly unrelated problems started in the same week, including one problem that caused hardware electrical noise coming out of my sound card, all leading to a BSoD loop and issues keeping me from even getting into Windows despite format and reinstall several times, makes me think it's probably the motherboard, hard drive, or power supply - or maybe the power supply was the initial problem and has damaged my hard drive or motherboard. I just don't know how to figure out WHICH hardware is causing the issue.


    I just don't think it's related to software, seeing as how my C: drive has been completely wiped several times now by the Windows Installer's "format" button. However, it seems that the Windows Installer does a "Quick Format", which means that if the drive has some FAT issues, they might not have been completely eliminated. Anyone know how I can do a Full (Slow) Format without being able to get into Windows? I doubt this will fix it, but it's worth a try.


    Thanks for the reply. Looking forward to more.
     
  4. TheNilvarg

    TheNilvarg New Member

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    Okay, interesting update here. I figured out how to slow-format the drive from the command line. It took a really long time, but finally finished, and I installed Windows on it. It booted just fine, and it's running quickly. I even gave it a restart for no reason, just to see what happens, and there were no "Bootmgr" or "Disk Read" failures.


    I'm going to go to sleep and see if it's still working in the morning.


    In the meantime, can someone please explain to me how doing a slow format on this drive could possibly fix all of the insane hardware-like problems I was having - especially the electrical buzzing/squeaking coming from the speakers?


    Anyway, time to sleep. I'll be back in the morning to let you know if this actually fixed this catastrophe...
     
  5. Mike

    Mike Windows Forum Admin
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    Hello and welcome the forums! While your long and articulate posts detailing every facet of your problem may be difficult to read or handle for some, for those of us who have been around long enough, they are a breath of fresh air! I’ve read all of it, and I’ve got some ideas and suggestions for you.

    Here are just some things you need to know, based on the situation you experienced before:

    • The situation very well can come back depending on a number of factors. Even moving the computer may have seated a modular component just right that the problem has temporarily gone away.
    • I am convinced with one-hundred percent certainty that this is a hardware problem based on your description, which I have seen and witnessed firsthand countless times.
    • You have successfully used deductive reasoning to eliminate the possibility it is software, which is a step most people never get to.
    So what is the cause of your problem? I have eliminated it to system temperature, hard drive, or PSU. Why?

    These areas of the system rely on the most moving parts. Systems fans and heatsinks, as well as the moving ceramic (or most likely aluminum) moving platters of your hard drive are like stone age relics and tools from a by-gone age compared to the complexity and engineering masterpiece that is the rest of your system. Your system is quantitatively more advanced, by an order of magnitude that is incomprehensible, than these common components. Their moving parts are susceptible to wear and tear and in environments with large numbers of computers, these are the common reason for hardware system failure. The way fans, heat sinks, and conventional hard drives exist on a modern computer system in 2011 is analogous to using a Ford Model-T's tires on a brand new sports car. There are consumer alternatives that are solid state in their design (no moving parts) -- this important characteristic of modern computer cooling systems and hard drives prevents breakdown on an order of magnitude that hasn't even been quantified or "computed" into the equation by most technicians, system builders, or decision makers yet. However, we know Google is using them on their server farms. In fact, modern datacenters operated by Google and other large enterprises have servers with no fans installed. This is because the cost of advanced environmental controls for the entire building is cheaper than replacing the number of downed server nodes there would be if they included them. Our own content delivery network uses an enormous relay of solid state disk drive server farms for their pull zones, which we make use of extensively, to host and distribute our static content off this website. The answer for the equation is that the more computers you have, the greater and greater the liability becomes apparent: Moving parts on any computer system are the primary reason for hardware failures. I have debated this in the past with others, but it does not change the facts on the ground. Having moving parts in your computer is like utilizing the ancient tools of a barbarian while piloting a time machine.

    But I'll write less about the problem in general, and go into specifics as to why I have come to this narrow conclusion:

    This is convincing evidence that the problem is either related to the hard drive, the temperature of the CPU, or less likely, the motherboard. The reasons for this are simple: It should take a few seconds. The only instance where it would take longer is where your hard drive itself is at issue, or more importantly, the temperature of the CPU is such that the entire processor itself is automatically lowering its clock speed to attempt to compensate with the overheat.

    This is indicative of a problem with the hard drive and/or the installer's ability to access the hard drive. There is no question about it.

    The least likely scenario is a defective SATA cable (very unlikely). However, the cable should be checked to ensure it is latched on correctly to both the hard drive and the storage controller.

    A damaged on-board mass storage controller could be indicative and evidence of other problems, including a defective or damaged south bridge. When you begin to see a group of components fail like sound, USB, and hard disk all at once, this can sometimes be signs that the board itself is defective under some conditions.

    Let's assume the southbridge and/or entire motherboard does not have a defect or problem. The connection of peripherals into USB ports should be suspended. Move the mouse and keyboard to a different USB controller if possible. Now think about the PSU. If the PSU is overvolting it can lead to this kind of lag. It can create hangups with communication between components, and a massive, intense system bottleneck. In cases where voltage levels are unstable, the CPU and motherboard can be damaged from electrical disturbances as well as the CPU overheating issue that I have reflected upon.

    You are correct! There is no way, whatsoever, that I can see that this would be a software issue. It's just to unlikely and the problem is too large in its scope. The sound coming out of your speaker, again points to motherboard problems on the southbridge. I encourage you to visualize a map of your motherboard in your head. All of the "brain" or CPU components are situated on the northbridge. This includes, in order of throughput capability and speed, the CPU itself, the front-side bus, the graphics bus, and RAM.

    On the lower end, we have the PCI bus, integrated sound, integrated video, PCI bus, CMOS, Ethernet, USB, SATA, and IDE falling under what's called the I/O controller hub. You also have the BIOS, which is a form of flash memory.

    If something is going on with the southbridge, you are going to have anomalies with your hard drive, sound, the PCI bus potentially slowing everything down, USB peripherals, and everything. But I am looking at replacing the motherboard as a last resort, or even implicating it as a problem. But what I do see are problems if this ever starts happening again, even for a few seconds.

    If the PSU is failing, it could blow out the whole board and components that are attached to it, including the memory. When a PSU blowout occurs, the processor is often times advanced enough to survive the chaos, but components like the graphics card and memory modules are known to die. It's difficult to test the condition of the PSU without the proper electrician's tools, but look for overvoltage using CPUID - System & hardware benchmark, monitoring, reporting

    If the hard drive is failing, you could lose essential data. You will be storing all of these important files and then - BAM! - you lose everything. This is not what you want. Right now, there is enough evidence to consider the hard drive to be very suspect. Run a detailed scan of your entire drive, including free space, by running Start -> Search -> cmd.exe (right-click to "Run as Administrator") and execute chkdsk /r /f

    Why /r ?

    If its the CPU heatsink, fans, or temperature of the system, this is very easy to eliminate as a possibility right away, by measuring your CPU/motherboard temperature in the BIOS and when the computer is on. Get your temps by acquiring SpeedFan - Access temperature sensor in your computer. Remember to also use the above CPU-Z utility to check for the clocking down of your processor. Your processor will likely automatically clock up and down to preserve power. But if you set your Power Options in Windows to Performance it is less likely you're going to see a drop in clock speed or stepping. Only when the CPU is starting to overheat will the clock speed drop so much that you would have to wait forever for a simple installation to take place.

    More indicative of a hard disk drive problem. You need to understand what the slow format does. It runs a chkdsk of the free space to look for bad sectors. If you have any, even one bad sector on your disk, this will usually be found during a "slow format" and isolated from ever being used on by your filesystem again. Since NTFS is a journalistic, self-recording file system, it can isolate bad sectors of the drive (essentially areas of the drive that cannot be used reliably) and partition them off. What happens? Well after awhile you're going to start to get more bad sectors. It could be minutes, hours, days, weeks, or years. But it means you have a fundamental problem with your drive. You could go for 10 years without these bad sectors impacting anything but a few bytes of free space. Or your entire hard drive could crash tomorrow. BAM! You're out of business. You just never know. But what is known is that I've seen systems lose 2-5MB due to bad sectors and the next week lose 80% of its hard disk space. Chugging and churning, the entire drive fails and the filesystem is so corrupted it cannot boot. What is the most common form of hard disk damage? You guessed right. Bad sectors.

    Best practice?

    Run Start -> Search -> diskmgmt.msc

    See if that slow low level format freed up any disk space or if you notice anything unusual.

    It's time to start getting serious here. Go get the Ultimate Bood CD freeware, which has a collection of freeware tools on boot. This is essential, because it has a number of freeware tools that you can use to diagnose your hard drive. Checking the SMART status of your drive is important, but also testing it extensively is equally important. Follow this site carefully, and you are on your way to full problem resolution.

    If you don't find hard disk problems with this utility, I will sincerely be surprised. Run every test on this disc. Test your memory, your CPU - everything. But chances are, as it usually is, it is the hard drive.

    Go to Western Digital's site and download their hard drive diagnostic utilities. Run them extensively. All of my power supplies are 1kW Rosewill (1000 watt) and have yet to fail. I suspect it's the hard drive, as it is in almost every case where you start to see problems, exemplified by your issue in such a robust way. Truly, the way you have documented and articulated your issue in such a professional way has easily led to an open door solution. If this is a hardware issue, you now have some ideas that will not only show you where to look, but empower you to correct the problem.

    What would I do with a Western Digital hard drive that has bad sectors? First of all, it's not unheard of. If you confirm even one bad sector on the drive, back up your stuff and run a RMA or warranty return. Check the warranty status. Contact them. Or junk the drive. Standard practice for one bad sector is to junk the drive in serious environments. That is a risk you don't want sitting around on your system ever again.
     
  6. nmsuk

    nmsuk Windows Forum Admin
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    Mike,

    May I suggest if the OP is going to check SMART, he uses the application available from the drives manufacturer. SMART as a standard is only of use if you use the Manufactures application as many of the values are specifically tied to the drive\manufacturer in question.
     
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  7. Mike

    Mike Windows Forum Admin
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    I agree. As a last resort, I would also recommend the Intel Rapid Storage Technology (RST). On any Intel-compliant motherboard, this software/driver combo should be installed. While initially designed for RAID, this software also works well with SATA hard drives connected to Intel chipsets: Support for the Intel® Rapid Storage Technology

    It would not be bad to have and it is known for its reliability. In some cases, a performance enhancement will result from having the software installed on a system that utilizes Intel chipsets, but it is excellent to have as a diagnostic utility especially for preventing problems before they occur.

    One of the dangers I fear is that by doing the low-level slow disk format he may have hidden the bad sectors unless he runs a thorough scan from boot disk. Best to check Western Digital's website, and there are also WD utilities on the Ultimate boot disk I mentioned. Bad sectors will not simply appear again when you do a chkdsk /r. They have already been blocked off from use in NTFS. Bad sectors would explain all of the problems he is having -- from delayed writes to complete slowdowns. The only thing I find weird is the sound, but even that could be caused by the disk locking and stalling the system.
     

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