Blog Post

What’s with all the disk thrashing in Vista?

If you’ve installed Vista on your PC you know what I’m talking about.  At unpredictable moments Vista has a tendency to start thrashing the hard drive like crazy, sometimes making the whole system sit there essentially catatonic until it finishes.  I haven’t been able to predict when it’s going to happen, either.  Sometimes it does it when resuming from Standby, sometimes it does it when simply changing the display orientation from landscape to portrait (or vice versa).  I have seen this thrashing go on for as long as five full minutes, forcing me to sit and stare at the unresponsive system until Vista is done doing whatever it’s doing.

At first I thought it was the result of indexing the files on the hard drive, but I don’t think that is the cause.  When I can get into the task manager I don’t see the search processes taking up a lot of resources so I think it’s something else.  I also thought it was because I only have 1 GB of memory in the Fujitsu P1610 and Vista was perhaps paging like crazy, but I have now seen this thrashing on multiple systems with more memory.  I even see it doing this on the MacBook Pro when Vista is running in Parallels, and Vista has 1.5 GB of memory allocated to it.  Even when not much is running Vista will decide to do something intensive with the hard drive and the thrashing begins.  Does anybody have any idea what this is?  I believe this issue is separate from the one that’s made the news recently where file copy, move, or delete operations can take a very long time.  I see that issue too but this thrashing seems to have no visible cause.

30 Responses to “What’s with all the disk thrashing in Vista?”

  1. I think you’ll find in your case that the disk thrashing is the vista harddisk backup util, that seems to want to create sytem restore points every time you breath on your keyboard.. goto:

    Control panel: system…

    From there select the system protection tab and alter the system restore options.. i think you’ll find this removes most of the thrashing..

  2. This has been driving me crazy. I bought a new high spec Core Quad Machine, 3gb Ram, 1.5TB running Vista Home Premium. I had a problem with Disk Thrashing at first but upgraded to SP1 and it seemed to die down, appeared to be improved indexing? Anyway the thing is I have random bursts of disk activity that just make my machine unusable, and they last for a long time, generally hours. Even if i reboot it just carries on thrashing where it left off, taking about 45 mins to restart. When I stop the superfetch service it dies down instantly, but I kinda like Superfetch when it’s doing what it should do… annoying.

  3. For me the problem was solved within seconds of disabling Superfetch (Services > Superfetch). Prior to this, disabling the indexing service, disk defrag and windows updates seemed to make little or no difference to the hard disk thrashing.

  4. It seems to be coming from either the indexing service, windows updates, superfetch, or disk defrag. Its just windows automatically fixing things in the background. The only time I see this is when I start up, after that it only happens once in a while.

    Tip: Go into task manager and click on performance monitor…you can see whats thrashing your disk.

    SP1 fixes most of these issues, they also go away over time.

    Note: This can happen in XP when Processidletasks its doing its “stuff” though its no so much of a kick in the teeth.

  5. I’ve experienced the same issues as well. Will take a look at the suggestions posted here (turning off system restore, defrag, turn off superfetch, etc)

    But before that I’m installing SP1 to see if that does the trick. I’ve got to say that after spending $1700 on a new top of the line laptop 2.3Ghz 2GB RAM. Ok, so not tip-top of the line, I figured I’d get the extra 2GB when prices were lower and it was necessary to have. Requiring 4GB of RAM (which just happens to be the max Vista can address) is over the top… very disappointing.

  6. I turned system restore off and the thrashing stopped immediately too. FWIW this is on a high-end system: 3.2GHz core2duo, 4GB of ram and a raptor system drive. Also I’m running SP1RC so don’t expect that to fix the problem!

  7. Be glad to hear that on Vista with SP1 ( current version SPRC1, v.744 ) all these background stuff seems to be gone or hardly noticeable. So look out when SP1 arrives.
    It also fixes LOTS of other issues.
    I am on Vista Business with 1,8GhZ and 1 GB Ram on an older Mainboard ( Socket A / AMD ).
    So on modern machines I would expect drastic changes :-)

  8. Jakub K.

    I had the same problem. When I turned off automatic points of restore (windows shadow copies) in System protection the performance of my pc got much better and I gained lots of gigabytes space back on my hard drive:)
    However you should consider all consequences of having this feature turned off.

  9. Mark Benerofe

    Same experience. On a new Sony desktop with 2G, a Dell portable with 2G and a desktop with 3G! It is a combination of factors, but its sad that in finally addressing the ridiculously poor search funcationality across a pc, or even in outlook messages or contacts, they did such a lame and inefficient implenetation on search. The indexing seems to eat through memory blocks, as does the auto defrag and other features mentioned. The result is contention with the apps you want to use – and its not like 2007 Office applications are getting skinnier either – the vista features essentially require blocks that boot out the apps you are using over the course of a few hours.

    It just was not ready for prime time – and feels like an XT at times. What’s stunning is how slow Microsoft is at getting any fixes up.

    In addition – is anyone having problems with the wireless management system (separate from a terribly interface and that “windows is trying to fix the problem” bar that never fixes anything)? I used to use Intel ProSet, but it seems to contend with Vista’s wireless governance and code – which also seems a bit hyper-protective relative to widespread linksys boxes. So many places i used to easilier connect, its now problematic, and sometimes it just loses the Internet connection and leaves you “local.” Seems especially bad with some of the Intel ProSet abg drivers on dell’s.

    With Vista, I just am spending so much time waiting and micro managing vista to optimize, so instead of getting faster and easier and more efficient, everything is slower – and the amount of time you spend getting ready to do the work or get connected with Vista is way up. It isn’t an “enabler” – its a bit of a barricade. Very disappointing.

  10. Mark Benerofe

    Same experience. On a new Sony desktop with 2G, a Dell portable with 2G and a desktop with 3G! It is a combination of factors, but its sad that in finally addressing the ridiculously poor search funcationality across a pc, or even in outlook messages or contacts, they did such a lame and inefficient implenetation on search. The indexing seems to eat through memory blocks, as does the auto defrag and other features mentioned. The result is contention with the apps you want to use – and its not like 2007 Office applications are getting skinnier either – the vista features essentially require blocks that boot out the apps you are using over the course of a few hours.

    It just was not ready for prime time – and feels like an XT at times. What’s stunning is how slow Microsoft is at getting any fixes up.

    In addition – is anyone having problems with the wireless management system (separate from a terribly interface and that “windows is trying to fix the problem” bar that never fixes anything)? I used to use Intel ProSet, but it seems to contend with Vista’s wireless governance and code – which also seems a bit hyper-protective relative to widespread linksys boxes. So many places i used to easilier connect, its now problematic, and sometimes it just loses the Internet connection and leaves you “local.” Seems especially bad with some of the Intel ProSet abg drivers on dell’s.

    With Vista, I just am spending so much time waiting and micro managing vista to optimize, so instead of getting faster and easier and more efficient, everything is slower – and the amount of time you spend getting ready to do the work or get connected with Vista is way up. It isn’t an “enabler” – its a bit of a barricade. Very disappointing.

  11. Laurence

    Turning off system restore has seemed to do the trick for me. Unfortunately there isn’t an option to have restore on ‘manual’ only – it’s all or nothing, which is a pain!

  12. Douglass Carmichael

    Same. But in my case it was IE 7 continually accessing the hard drive, which on my Shuttle is loud, so very annoying. Vista help i free by phone first 90 days, so use it. They had me clean out and reset more than i care to remember, and I don’t remember anything that was dramatic at the moment. But since, it has not been as bad. Magic, unfortunately. IE7 still does more disc access than other browsers I’ve tried. The lack of no fuzz send to one note and a few other IE add-ins make it hard to give up.

    The shadow saving may be part of it.

    the core question is, what are the advantages of Vista? Speech recognition is they key one for me. I like the side bar, but its more quaint than super useful.

    The extra security and clicks necessary to open some things is just a pain. I also do not get an equivalent list of files in the new “Document” and the old “My Documents”. This has made using ShareFolder more difficult.

  13. bmhome1

    I’ve been running Vista since beta’s last summer on two older tablets. The Motion 1300 1Gz is the minimum spec to even install.

    Low resources hardware running Vista CAN run smoothly and fast, BUT the hard disk activity and CPU % usage fine tuning are THE key ever getting a handle.

    The reality is that default Vista installs need to be feature slashed to address both. It takes time and effort and determination that it IS possible.

    Do whatever it takes to get your hard drive LED to blink only accessing data and stay idle otherwise. Forget indexing, auto defrag, all backround features deselected.

    Get the CPU% down to 5-15% idle and spiking 100% only as peaks, not pegged. Brutal hog software elimination policy, startup prrocesses slashing, all auto updaters blocked, etc.

    It’s NOT one issue, its the culmination of multiple inefficiencies saddled on Vista, either as shipped or user software.

    The core problem is that by design Vista will work as intended on later generation horsepower with 4GB RAM or more and quad chips and hybrid drives better able to handle the draw.

    For now, portables especially, fine tuning and taming and making choices of feature benefit vs cost tradeoff are the answer.

  14. John in Norway

    I get this on my Q1 with 1GB RAM but as far as I can tell not on my m200 with only 768MB so I’m not convinced it’s anything to do with the amount of memory. I thought it was that Windows Defender thing because it usually happens to me when I come out of Standby.

    My Q1 has also lost it’s ability to hibernate and my Administrator account has also disappeared even after doing the registry fix to force it to show up on booting up! There’s some very weird things going on here.

  15. I’ve just installed Vista Business on an Acer TM8204, with Core Duo 2Ghz processor and 2Gb RAM.

    Many times during the installation and configuration I’ve been sat staring at a non-changing screen while the hard drive thrashes it’s heart out, even shutting the machine down takes a couple of minutes due to this hard drive activity.

    TBH, I’m getting fed up with Vista. It’s performance compared to XP is feeble at best, I’ve tried it on three machines now of varying specifications and on each one I’ve stumbled into show-stoppers.

    I was hoping to see a few reviews of the Oqo2 and if they were favourable, order one. However, if my only order option is a unit with Vista… I think I’ll end up passing. :(

  16. I saw a lot of such “absence seizures” after an upgrade install of Vista, but such behavior disappeared when I did a clean install.

    I see a lot of 100% CPU use on a Motion LS800 with 1 GB RAM. Process Explorer shows that it is due to a svchost.exe thread, the one with Task Scheduler Engine and Input Personalization Server, but all the activity is shown in the svchost.exe line, and I don’t know what that means.

    Someone more knowledgeable about Vista processes could probably make more progress with such monitoring. Process Explorer is free at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/utilities/ProcessExplorer.mspx
    It is updated for Vista but it gets flagged by User Access Control when run from an administrator account so it is a bit of a bother to use.

  17. I’ve experienced the same thing. On my Mac Pro at work and my Dell 410 at home with a goodly amount of RAM, the machine will thrash now and again. I defrag my drives regularly and I know One Care isn’t doing anything so I know that’s not it.

    I assumed it had something to do with the OS indexing for the search features but moving around what’s being paged is always possible too.

  18. I believe its the new virtual memory sub-system that tries to make sure you have the right things in memory instead of them being on disk. Vista will unload memory into the swap and drag things out of the swap into memory based on what it thinks you will be wanting to do.

    Microsoft has a couple articles about how it works and how wonderful it is, but nothing I’ve seen on how to tame it when it isn’t so wonderful.

    Not giving Vista as much memory to play with helps. I keep my Parallels chopped back to 512MB and get thrashes of less than 45 seconds. On my LE1600 putting in a 4GB SD card for Ready Boost helps alot (so far I can’t Ready Boost my MBP.)

  19. I have experienced the same thing. I’m glad to hear it’s not just me. I was wondering if it is my Windows Live One Care executing Tune-Up activity in the background.

    – Kevin