Disclaimer

The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Imagination Technologies's MIPS group, in the past of other companies such as Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

See http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcxddbtr_23cg5thdfj for photo credits.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Problem report about slow laptop

Here is a problem report I just submitted to company IT. Not once, but three times, because of problems with their problem reporting tool. Thank goodness I had cut and paste my problem report to a file. The problem reporting system is so unreliable.

This is just bitching. But there's a chance some web.lurker outside my company may be able to help solve my problem.

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My laptop is slow. This is true in general, but especially in one specific circumstance: starting up after it has been in standby for an extended period of time, e.g. overnight.

This sort of problem seems to be shared by many people, but it seems to be especially bad for me. This can be indicated anecdotally: I often pair program with people, and we have to wait while my laptop powers up. They turn to me, and say things like "Wow, your laptop is slow." Then they suggest that the problem may be that I have too little DRAM, or too slow a processor, or ... But we have never found a configuration option that we can tune that improves things significantly.

At the moment, the leading candidates, suggested by "expert" PC performance tuners (people at my employer whose job it is to make PCs run faster) are:

a) that I have too little DRAM. Although I have 1GB of DRAM, it has been suggested that I request an upgrade to 1.5 or 2GB, because I use my laptop more extensively than most people, running visual studio for large compiles, etc.
I would like to officially request such a memory upgrade.

b) that my disks are too slow. Some folks have suggested that I request a disk upgrade from 5400 to 7200 rpm. Another person, the most expert, has suggested that the problem may be that my disk has a lot of bad blocks. Certainly, during these slow periods, the disk is cranking, audibly constantly seeking - a characterostic of bad block remapping.

I would like to officially request that somebody in IT provide me with PC diagnostic software that can query the disk controller, and see how often such bad block remappings are being done. Note that this is controller level software; OS level software reports "bad blocks", but most physical bad block remappings are hidden by the disk controller hardware. If you, whoever is in IT reading this, do not understand what I just said, please escalate to someone who does.

And, yes, by the way: I have repeatedly run IT diagnostics, and have not found the problem.

Let me provide some data. In the last few days, I have recorded the time I started my computer, and the time at which I could use Outlook to read email. These sample times are:

8:39 - 8:46 - 9 minutes

8:46 - 8:55 - 9 minutes

8:37 - 8:50 - 13 minutes

8:04 - 8:11 - 7 minutes

9:06 - 9:20 - 14 minutes

8:05 - 8:17 - 12 minutes

Such delays do not just occur in the morning after being idle overnight. They sometimes occur during the day, e.g. when I have an hour between meetings. 12 minutes of startup time is a significant fraction of an hour, and makes it very difficult to get things done.

Moreover, getting from start to Outlook is not the whole story. The computer often remains slow for 5-10 more minutes, with the disk cranking away. I have used "start to Outlook" as a measure because it is an objective measure, but it is an understimate of the period of slowness.

The disk is, as I have mentioned, cranking away madly during the period of slowness. It is not always possible to run Task Manager to see what is going on (e.g. Task manager sometimes takes sevceral minutes to start), but when I have been able to I have often observed virus scanning in progress. Similarly, I have also often observed IT tools such as BESclient. In fact, BESclient was so often associated with delays of much worse duration - 15-30 minutes - that I completely disabled it (as reported in earlier servicedesk requests). I am reluctant, however, to disable virus scanning, because of IT chargeback policies.

I suspect that the problem may be caused by virus scanning or other periodic tasks all starting up after a period of idleness; possibly related to invalidation or timeout of in-DRAM caches of file blocks.

The paranoid part of me fears that my laptop may be controlled by malware, or possibly by company installed spyware. But, that's paranoid.

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To be honest, I do not expect IT to do anything useful, to hekp me, with this problem report.

I am making this problem report mainly so that nobody in IT can say that I have not reported the problem. I have repeatedly reported the problem over the past year or so, but could not find it in the problem database, probably because of changes in the problem reporting system.

As usual, there is no problem reporting category that this seems to fall under. So I choose something as close as possible: Computing/Notebook/Docking Station.

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I am reluctant to spend many hours on the phone or in chat sessions with IT HelpDesk personnel trying to fix this. I have wasted many hours in such conversations in the past, usually to no avail. (Although I must admit that the last time I interacted with the IT ServiceDesk, they actually solved my problem quickly and competently - kudos on that.)

I am completely willing to leave my laptop with IT service people, so that they can try to reproduce and solve this performance problem themselves. However, I would need a loaner PC, ideally with an image made of my current disk, so that I can continue to work.

Actually, that would be a good test: image copy my disk, and install the new disk in a new loaner PC, and see if the slowness continues. If not, it suggests a problem with the old disk, such as bad block remappings. If it were possible to try the extra DRAM, even if only temporarily in a loaner PC...

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I typed this in twice, but the ServiceDesk web application lost what I had typed: so now I have placed the problem report in an attached file. Please read it.

Also, the service desk web application refuses to accept such detailed problem reports.

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