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Issue #626: July 21-27, 2019

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Q: About two minutes after I boot up my laptop (or wake it up) the disk usage goes to 95-100% (as seen in the Task Manager Process tab) and stays there for 10-15 minutes. During this time, the computer is useless. I’ve been fighting this for over a year. Now I just come in from work, boot it up, and walk away. Later that night it will be fine. I’ve done a lot of research and tried several things listed, but nothing seems to work. I’m just about ready to use the sledgehammer repair method. Any help appreciated.

– Curtis R.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A: This type of issue has been around for years to a varying degree, Curtis. Windows has a certain amount of housekeeping it wants to do on boot-up, and the time it takes depends on a great many things. Some of these are controllable by you, and some are not. Some can actually be caused by you without you even knowing it. But rest assured, the issue occurs on every PC at boot-up, but the severity of the impact, and how long the effect lasts varies greatly from machine to machine.

First of all, this complaint is far more common from owners of older PCs. Remember when your computer was brand new, and it seemed to practically boot to readiness before you could even get your finger off the power button? What happened between then and now? Well, it’s probably not just the aging hardware, but rather the relentless forward march of software, including the operating system. The manufacturer of your PC designed it to run the software that was available at the time. It was equipped with a certain type and speed of processor, memory, cache, hard drive, etc. The more expensive the machine, the larger and faster the components. But over time, things change. Now, I can already see people reaching for their keyboards, saying “But Geek! I run Windows 10 just like you recommend, and this machine always has had Windows 10.” This is technically correct, but the name Windows 10 is a terribly inadequate description. There are Home versions, and Pro versions, and Enterprise Editions. Within each of those is a “build” that constantly improves and matures, and usually gets pushed out to your computer during Windows Update. Why, the very day I was writing this column, an article came across my news feed saying that Microsoft was going to force customers who are still running the 10 April 2018 update (which is version 1803) to the 10 May 2019 update (version 1903). See TinyURL.com/IGTM-0626a for more information. And this comes on the heels of news back in April that Microsoft was going to halt the practice of forcing constant updates on users. See TinyURL.com/IGTM-0626b for that one. My point is that even Win 10 grows and changes over time, and older hardware can’t always keep up.

Other things that can cause slow-downs include maintenance processes that were skipped while the PC was shut down. The above-mentioned Windows Updates are a perfect example. If your PC was off when the update was scheduled, it might just try to accomplish it at the first available opportunity, which would be immediately after the PC boots back up.

There are other, non-intuitive things to watch for, which as I’ve said, are under your control. You mentioned in your contact info that you’ve done some of these, but they bear repeating so other readers might benefit. One thing I learned a long time ago, having an excessive number of fonts installed can slow a PC down. Sounds odd, right? After all, they are just using a tiny amount of disk space until you need them. But what you don’t realize is that Windows is indexing all of them, possibly even pre-loading them so they’re available when an application needs them. When does that occur? Boot time, of course. Then there are operations like syncing Microsoft OneDrive to the cloud, and features that actually speed up the system, like search indexing and SuperFetch. The work to make them possible theoretically happens in the background, but Windows sometimes has a difficult time telling the so-called background from the foreground.

By the way, all of what I’ve said above assumes otherwise unfettered system operation. Like many problems, this one can be exacerbated by the presence of malware (which your scanner might not even be capable of detecting).

When this happens, my suggestion is to visit the Task Manager and click on the “Disk” column header to sort by that number. You should immediately be able to see which process or processes are using the most disk I/O. Armed with that knowledge, you can make some informed decisions on how to minimize the impact.

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