Saturday, December 01, 2007

Something Rotten In Redmond

Well, my "acceptance" of Windows Vista may be shorter lived than I thought it would be. I have noticed over the past couple of weeks that one of my hard drives has been thrashing constantly. Thrashing means that the hard drive is being heavily accessed over a period of time and it can significantly shorten the life of a hard drive.

A thrashing hard drive is usually an indication of insufficient physical memory. When the computer runs out of physical memory, it will use part of the hard drive as virtual memory or VM (that's what the Windows Swap File is for). You will most often see VM access with memory intensive programs like Adobe Photoshop. If your computer has adequate memory, you will only notice your hard drive being accessed when trying to perform a function in the program, especially if it is a particularly complex function such as applying certain filters. This is normal. If your computer has low memory, you will notice the hard drive being access most if not all of the time the program is loaded. This is when you start using the term thrashing. When the hard drive starts thrashing when using almost any program, even the simplest like the Calculator, it's usually a good indication that it's time for a memory upgrade.

I have a gigabyte of RAM and my hard drive thrashes when my computer is "idle." That is, when I'm at the desktop and not actively running any programs. There are programs that run in the background, such as my podcatcher and Steam (a game management engine from Valve), but even exiting all of these background programs and disabling a few unnecessary services on top of that does not alleviate the problem. This indicates that it's not a memory problem. Reducing the memory load should reduce the hard drive access. Besides, it had not been doing this until recently. It means that some piece of software that is in or has some component in the background is not functioning as it should and is probably randomly accessing the swap file for no reason.

I have run an AntiVirus scan but turned up nothing. Actually, that's kind-of when this all started. I downloaded AVG free and installed it because I had been running without AV software since installing Vista. This is not uncommon for me but, Vista being a new operating system, I thought that maybe I didn't know what to look for as an indication of infection. When I noticed the thrashing shortly after installing AVG, I uninstalled it but the thrashing hasn't stopped. My guess at this point is it is some residual of AVG or it's Steam. I don't really want to remove Steam (it's required to play Half Life 2) but the only other alternative is to blow out the OS and reload. If I'm going to go through the trouble to do that anyway, I'm going to reinstall XP. If I downgrade, at least I'll have my DVD authoring software back (I need to upgrade the program for Vista compatibility).

There is talk of Service Pack 1 for Vista. I may just wait for that to come around and see if it automagically fixes the problem (not likely but possible).

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