“My computer is running slow”

In an interview a while back, I was asked to troubleshoot a Windows XP Laptop. The scenario was pretty simple: A client had reported that their Laptop had begun to run very slowly, particularly when booting; and it was my job to find the problem.

I thought I’d write down my usual procedure for this kind of scenario. Let’s go!

Check for Virii and Malware

Virii and Malware often consume large amounts of CPU time while going about their nefarious business, so let’s check those first:

  • Check Anti-virus is installed and up-to-date. Perform a manual check just in case.
  • Check Anti-Malware / Anti-Spyware is installed and up-to-date. Again, perform a manual check.
  • Spybot S&D, HijackThis, CWShredder, and Rootkit Revealer are tools that I find incredibly useful.
  • Filehippo is a great, centralised, place to find free and open-source apps for general troubleshooting.

Check your Startup programs and Services

Some useless, and damaging, things can get into your system Startup and Services areas. For example, do you really need to have QuickTime load every time your PC boots? This is another good place to check for Malware, and weird names like “fke38282gje.exe” should immediately flag your attention.

  • Check the Startup tab in the System Configuration Utility for anything suspect (Start > Run… > msconfig).
  • While you’re there, check in the Services tab for anything out of place.
  • Google anything you find, and you’ll usually find out if it’s malicious or not.

System Configuration Utility

Defrag and RAM

There are of course, perfectly natural reasons for a system’s slow down. The two main ones being a fragmented hard drive, and a lack of sufficient RAM.

  • Check Hard Drive fragmentation (Right click My Computer > Manage > Storage > Disk Defragmenter).
  • Check your RAM (Right click My Computer > Properties). XP really should have at least 512MB of RAM.

Disk Defragmenter

Less likely causes

In addition, you may want to check a few other things which are much less likely.

As the PC was reported to be slow to boot, check the DHCP Server and also the DHCP settings on the client PC. If a system is set to grab a DHCP address it will often wait a long period of time, for a response from the DHCP server, before timing out. After that it gives itself an AUTO-IP and continues to load. Because nothing really happens for a while, this will appear as though the PC is slow to boot. A time out might occur if the DHCP server is down, or there’s a problem with your network downstream.

If the PC is reported as being generally slow, check that the Hard Drive is running in DMA Mode, and hasn’t fallen back to PIO mode. PIO is a slower, and much more CPU intensive, method of accessing Hard Drives than DMA. Often if Windows notices that data is being corrupted in DMA (CRC failures), it’ll fall back to PIO mode, resulting in a much slower system. Steps: Right click My Computer > Manage > Device Manager > IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers. Check both Primary and Secondary IDE Channels by right clicking, Properties, then looking in the Advanced Settings tab.

Check out this Microsoft KB article for a lot more detail on the issue.

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Did this help you at all? Is there anything I should add? Let me know in the comment section below!

Increase your Laptop’s battery life with NHC

If you have an Intel-based laptop (Centrino and above) and you’re frequently away from your desk, you might want to check out Notebook Hardware Control. In a nutshell, it’s a Windows application designed to extend your battery life by reducing the power consumption of your laptop’s components.

It does this by allowing you to change various settings in your hardware and software. Obvious things like lowering the brightness of your screen, allowing your hard drive to go to sleep, and clocking down your processor are covered. But there’s other useful features such as the facility to under-volt your processor to consume less energy, and settings to reduce the punch of your graphics processor.

I’ve found I get at least 30 minutes more battery life on my Intel Centrino 1.83Ghz. Try it out, and let me know how much extra battery life you get from it!

Download NHC here. To use it you’ll need Microsoft’s .NET Framework Version 2.0 or newer installed.

nhc-screenshot.png

Upgrading Ubuntu Server from 6.10 to 7.04

Earlier today I upgraded from Ubuntu Server 6.10 to 7.04 from the command line in just a few simple steps:

Make sure we have the latest updates

Check for updates:

Install any updates:

Now prepare to upgrade to 7.04

Install the latest upgrade manager:

Run the upgrade tool for servers:

And everything went smoothly. The only issue I had, was that I had to install inetd again to get SWAT working (sudo apt-get install netkit-inetd). Everytime I use Ubuntu I fall more and more in love with it 🙂

Securely Erasing Hard Drives

Every once in a while I need to securely wipe a hard drive before it’s sold on. To do this I use Darik’s Boot and Nuke. DBAN is a free, bootable application that allows you to securely erase a hard drive so that no one can recover any of the data that’s on it.

Why should you use DBAN?

If you’re selling your hard drive on eBay, or anywhere else, it’s vital that the data is completely erased as many buyers are scouring for personal data left on hard drives. A format using fdisk is not enough, as a standard format only marks the data as erased – it’s still there, it’s just been hidden from view; and by using readily available tools, it’s incredibly easy to un-hide that data and do whatever you want with it. Securely erasing data is especially important if your decommissioned hard drive has any sensitive data on it – and it’s safe to say that if you care about your privacy, or you’re running a business, most data is sensitive!

Using DBAN

You can boot DBAN from a CD/DVD or a USB drive. Once it’s booted, simply choose a wipe method, and how many rounds of wiping you’d like to perform. From my research online, I’ve found that using a PRNG (Pseudo-Random Number Generation) wipe 8 times over, is the most secure for modern hard drives. Apparently the Guttman (35 round wipe) isn’t as effective on modern drives.

Here’s the basic steps you need:

  • Burn the .iso file to a CD (you can use something like ImgBurn)
  • Boot up DBAN, and hit Enter to run in Interactive Mode.
  • Press the M Key to choose the Method: Scroll down to PRNG and hit Space.
  • Press the R Key to choose the Rounds: For high security we need 8 rounds, so replace 1 with 8.
  • Hit F10 to start, and wait until done.

Securely Erasing a Hard Drive with DBAN

Google adds Draggable Driving Directions

This morning, whilst organising my journey to an interview, I noticed that Google Maps now lets you drag and rearrange the route it specifies when giving driving directions. In the past you had to take the route it decided was best for you, even if your knowledge of local traffic patterns meant you’d never take that particular road. Well now, you can carve out your own route – very cool!

Try it out