My machine had slowed to a crawl. Why? Windows was “helping”!
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This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.
Yesterday my primary desktop machine was acting a little sluggish when I got
up, but a forced reboot seems to have cleared it up. Stuff happens.
This morning that machine was so slow as to be effectively useless. It took
a full 10 minutes for Process Explorer to load and display.
As many people tell me when they report problems, I hadn’t done anything new
or different or out of the ordinary prior to the problem – it just came out of
To make a long (and slow) story short, the problem boiled down to this: the
transfer mode on my hard drive had been switched from Ultra-DMA mode to very
slow and CPU-intensive PIO mode. (Now if you don’t know what those mean, that’s
fine, I’ll throw links in the show notes.) Why did this happen? Windows was
trying to be helpful. Apparently if it sees enough errors on the drive it does
this. Apparently “enough errors” can happen relatively easily even on a
properly working drive.
The solution? To uninstall the disk controller driver and reboot, allowing
Windows to re-detect the hardware and reinstall the driver, hopefully with the
correct default setting of Ultra-DMA.
The scenario bothers me for a couple of reasons:
Aside from the performance issue, it was completely silent. There should
have been notifications or an option to control what was going on.
The approach required to “undo” it is obscure, to say the least. A fair
amount of Googling (on another machine) lead me to the answer. Once understood,
this should have been a easily accessible user setting.
But my rant here isn’t so much about the design or process that lead to this
situation. I totally get how software evolves, particularly software designed
to interface with hardware that’s also evolving. And I understand that good
error handling is sometimes the most difficult and most commonly overlooked
aspect of software development.
My concern is this: with 30 years of computing experience under my belt, it
still took me significant time to make some educated guesses about what might
be happening, search the internet, interpret and evaluate the results, and then
interpret and perform the recommended solutions.
What’s an average user supposed to do?
I’d love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.info and enter 11892 in the go
to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me
a comment. While you’re there, browse over 1,200 technical questions and
answers on the site.
Till next time, I’m Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.