Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
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 nowhere.
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.
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