Visiting my father in Colorado and - as usual - resolving any problems his computers have developed since my last visit. For context, my father is an engineer, spent most of his career in aerospace, defense electronics, more recently chip design from modems (2400 baud through 56K) and more recently cell phone chip sets. Not a software guy, but definitely a techie.

I happened to be watching while he booted his “old” laptop (Winbook J4, 2Ghz Pentium, 512MB memory). The disk rattled. Icons appeared and flickered. I think it was ten minutes later, and startup was still incomplete. Took a minute(!) or so to get Windows Task Manager running.

Main problems:

  • Too much shit loaded at startup.
  • Not enough memory (though 512MB should be enough).
  • A badly fragmented hard disk.
  • Norton’s fat/slow/bloated “security” software. (verified)

First obvious problem was too many “quick start” helper applications loaded at startup helped make startup slow (ironic that). Adobe, QuickTime, Star Office, and AutoCAD were preloading junk into free memory (of which there is a shortage, not an excess). A bit absurd that none of these “helpers” seem to note the shortage of memory. Turned them all off.

Still too damn slow.

Next, went through the “startup” list. Lots of stuff starting every time that is not used. Makes the startup of the applications that are used very slow. Turned off everything not needed.

Memory use is a bit better. Still too damn slow.

Looked at the process list. What the heck are all these processes!? A good number are “update” processes - HP, RealPlayer, Norton (and more) all have processes launched for the sole purpose of checking for product updates. Dumb. Windows has support for “Scheduled Tasks”. Processes taking up CPU and memory for a task that Windows could do with far less overhead - is not brilliant.

Started up the disk defragmenter. We spent the afternoon in Telluride (as we are on vacation), got the kids season ski passes, wandered around, ate lunch, and drove back. Found the defragmenter still running!

Yes, the disk was badly fragmented … but still this seems excessive. Too little free memory, 17% free disk, and … possibly … Norton’s “security” software hogging far too many resources?

Will get to the bottom of this, eventually.

Update: I have a long history of distrust of anti-virus software, as I have seen bad effects on performance, and bad effects on system reliability. Looking at all the processes used by Norton, and knowing that some of the antivirus software overhead may be incurred in other processes, I strongly suspected Norton could be part of the performance problem. Looks like someone else asked the same question, and got an answer.

Norton is history. Installed AVG Anti-virus, which did indeed make a notable improvement, both in Windows startup and in later application startup.