Fast hardware - Slow Windows

03 May 2011
Posted by Laptop Junction

Slow laptop with fast hardware? How Windows XP Pro can grind a fast 2.1 Ghz - 2Gb laptop down to an annoyingly slow computer. Find out how to get it's original speed back.

Fast hardware - slow windows

It's a frustrating experience when a fast Windows XP system gradually slows down  to a sluggish internet surfboard. A few symptoms cumulating over several months of time;

  • Switching between running programs stalls windows for a second
  • Loading websites alternates from fast to slow and vice versa
  • Opening a new website browser tab takes several seconds
  • Checking e-mail is sluggish with a fast internet / server connection
  • Opening a Windows Explorer window takes a few seconds
  • The windows start button and task-bar stall for several seconds.

Symptoms emerge occasionally but gradually become more structural and annoying. A classic Windows problem where several tweaks are needed to get some of the original speed back.

Tabbed browsing in RAM memory lane

Most internet browsers (IE, FireFox, Safari) nowadays allow browsing of several websites at once - through tabbed browsing. Consequently the browser memory footprint has increased significantly over the years. An average surf session with a few tabbed websites easily grabs 300 Mb of RAM memory. A large chunk - specially when it has to be moved around or swapped to disk.

Tabbed browsing increases memory usage
Tabbed browsing increases memory usage - Safari (MAC) with 5 tabs open.

The system page file and free disk space are essential when RAM memory usage increases. Little disk space and a fixed sized system page file can result in a slow system - because the system page file can't increase.

For instance when switching programs (browser -> e-mail -> word processor) even a 2Gb memory bank requires a large system page / swap file (pagefile.sys) on disk. The system page file on disk can also become heavily fragmented when it's increased - something the standard defragmentation program can't fix - the location of the system page file remains fragmented.

Hibernation mode saves long startups

Windows Hibernation mode saves many from long Windows XP startups and restores previous internet browsing sessions. It saves time and precious laptop battery power.

Hibernation mode - always on system
Hibernation mode - always on system - memory eaters eat away memory

Hibernation mode turns Windows XP into an "always on" operating system - because a previous session is restored from disk. It feeds memory eaters slowly eating away available memory over several days / weeks. In the end the inevitable happens, Windows gets slower and slower and suddenly goes into a stall and doesn't return - a forced restart (press power button for 5 seconds) is the only way to continue.

When the hibernation file is created - a fragmented disk can spread the large hibernation file over many locations. Something the standard defragmentation program can't fix - the location of the hibernation file remains fragmented.

Getting CPU speed back

A tweak of the system page file and hibernation file can get CPU speed back. The page file can be too small and/or can be fragmented allover the disk. Specially on boot disks where there's little disk space left a fragmented, too small, system page file can be the recipe for a grinding slow system.

Optimizing system speed starts with enough defragmented disk space to allocate the system pagefile (pagefile.sys) and hibernation file (hiberfil.sys) to continuous file chunks. This instead of a fragmented pagefile.

Defragment pagefile and hibernation file
Defragment pagefile and hibernation file - Free System File Defragmenter V2.32 from Sysinternals.

Unfortunately the hibernation and system page file file must be allocated on the boot disk / partition. When the paging system file on the boot disk is set smaller than recommend, Windows will allocate the remaining size at the next partition. (ie: datadisk at for instance drive D: or E:) if available.

In steps:

  • Turn hibernation mode off (Power Options in Start-Settings-Control Panel)
  • Defragment the boot disk with the standard Windows defragmenter
  • Run PageDefrag to defragment the pagefile. (System File Defragmenter V2.32 from Sysinternals.)
  • Defragment the boot disk again
  • Set pagefile size on system managed size - see below
  • Turn hibernation mode on again

Set paging file size in Windows XP to system managed
Set paging file size in Windows XP to system managed

If in any of these steps disk space becomes tight - free up more space before continuing, Start allover again.

Software links - Fast Hardware - Slow Windows

System File Defragmenter V2.32 from Sysinternals